IMAGE OF KOREA
WHEN THE SEA BARES ITSELF Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the National Academy of Arts
idal flats are the inner skin of the sea. Twice a day, when the horizon swells up and the tide goes out, that secret skin is revealed. Suddenly, the tidal flats are taut and tense. The teeming creatures asleep in all corners of the flats come to life. The silvery scales of fish flap as water birds snatch them with the tips of their beaks. The crabs, dancing with their claws held up high to catch a femaleâ€™s eye, disappear in a flash and hide in their holes when the seagulls approach. In the few short hours between the ebbing and the surging of the tide, the people who live off the flats are busy. Pushing their sleds made of wooden slats, they slide and slither across the wide expanse of the mudflats. Hauling plastic buckets carrying digging hoes and forks and nets, the women look out with a sharp glimmer in their eyes. Before the tide comes in and the sun goes down, they have to gather fish in their nets and dig for clams and small octopuses in the mud. The young people have gone to live in the cities, leaving behind the old folks who are wearily drawing hope for their children from the mud with their forklike hands. For them, the tidal flats are both their workplace and their paradise. On the western and southern coasts of the Korean peninsula, the jagged coastline disperses the force of the waves, leaving sediment to build up and form vast, gently sloping tidal flats. The flats are a habitat for plankton and many varieties of flora as well as countless animal species and waterfowl in danger of extinction. In terms of ecological diversity, the Korean tidal flats are among the top five in the world, along with those on the coast of Georgia in the southeastern United States. The size of tidal flats everywhere continues to decline, however, because of coastal reclamation and development. Impatient humans are short-sighted and cannot wait for nature to renew itself. But the death of tidal flats would threaten the very origins of human life. In the summer holiday season, seaside villages run nature tourism programs for city dwellers to experience the tidal flats. Trains of â€œtidal flat carriagesâ€? pulled by tractors transport tourists across the mudflats to a site where they can rent rubber boots, vests, gloves, and digging hoes and forks, as well as a net to hold their catch. The tourists spend a happy day in the mud catching octopuses and digging for clams and other delicacies. Hopefully, this experience of the natural cycle of an ecosystem helps them to realize the preciousness of life.
Message from the Publisher
Cultural Conduit Bridging the World for 30 Years Koreana celebrates its 30th anniversary with the publication of the Summer 2017 issue. The quarterly magazine is published in 11 languages to promote Korean arts and culture around the world and thereby contributes to the friendship and goodwill between Korea and the global community. Over the last 30 years, Koreana has steadily renewed itself while supporting and reflecting Korea’s ever-expanding international relations. It was initially launched as an English-language magazine in the fall of 1987, ahead of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The first Japanese edition was issued the following year, and in 1993, soon after South Korea and China established diplomatic relations, the Chinese edition was introduced. The Spanish and French editions followed soon, and as the hallyu (Korean Wave) began to spread at the turn of the new millennium, Koreana responded to the rising global interest in Korean culture by launching Arabic, German, Indonesian, and Russian editions. With the emergence of digital media, Koreana further broadened its readership through e-book and webzine services (www.koreana.or.kr). Most recently, Vietnamese and Korean editions were made available to further diversify the channels of intercultural communication with netizens around the world. Koreana has dealt with a broad spectrum of Korean arts and culture, ranging from Paleolithic relics to contemporary media and installation art; from the splendid royal court culture of the Joseon Dynasty to today’s street art and fashion, from literature to film and various other cultural genres. In doing so, the magazine has helped people around the world to appreciate the universality and distinctiveness of Korean culture and also contributed to the mission of the Korea Foundation: “Connecting People, Bridging the World.” Celebrating Koreana’s achievements, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to its editorial board, contributors, translators, editors, and all those who have been directly and indirectly involved with its production and distribution. I would also like to thank our readers around the world for their continued interest and generous support.
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Peeling Back the Layers of History
Historical records say that when Baekje fell to the allied forces of Silla and Tang China in A.D. 660, its capital Sabi burned for seven days, with almost all architectural structures gutted. This probably explains why most visitors to historic sites of Baekje find that there is far more to “feel” than “see.” It has been a long-cherished plan for the editorial team of Koreana to introduce Baekje to our readers, in view of its significance as one of the Three Kingdoms which played vital roles in the shaping of Korea as a nation during much of the first millennium. The special feature of this edition is the fruition of this plan. I must admit it has been quite a challenge to bring to light, in a limited space, the various aspects of the history and culture of an ancient kingdom that perished under the military might of its neighbors 14 centuries ago but nonetheless remains indelible in the minds of many Koreans. It is truly gratifying that vestiges of Baekje’s cultural achievements remain relatively intact in Japan as a result of intimate interaction between the two countries, but it was a difficult endeavor to determine the extent of our coverage of the depth of their exchange. American scientist and author Jared Diamond’s notion of “world history as an onion” clearly applies here, too. It would be overly ambitious to peel back too many of the thick, mysterious layers in one fell swoop. I hope the special feature stories will stimulate our readers’ interest and curiosity. I also hope they will enjoy this 30th anniversary issue of Koreana . Lee Kyong-hee Editor-in-Chief
Published quarterly by THE KOREA FOUNDATION
2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul 06750, Korea PRINTED IN SUMMER 2017 Samsung Moonwha Printing Co. 10 Achasan-ro 11-gil, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 04796, Korea Tel: 82-2-468-0361/5 © The Korea Foundation 2017 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the Korea Foundation. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Koreana or the Korea Foundation. Koreana , registered as a quarterly magazine with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Registration No. Ba-1033, August 8, 1987), is also published in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS Summer 2017
Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
SPECIAL FEATURE 1
Baekje Under the Moonlight
SPECIAL FEATURE 2
Piecing Together the Remnants of an Ancient Kingdom
Hangeul, its Creation and Future as a Design Theme Chung Jae-suk
Baekje Settlers in Japan
SPECIAL FEATURE 4
Incense Burner Embodies Ideal World of the Baekje People
IN LOVE WITH KOREA
‘Thinking Hands’ of Lee Hyun-bae, Master Onggi Artisan
ON THE ROAD
The Road to Utopia
TALES OF TWO KOREAS
N. Korean Dissident Literature Sparks Global Interest Kim Hak-soon
AN ORDINARY DAY
Lee Chun-suk’s Deft and Joyful Scissor Work
BOOKS & MORE
“A Greater Music”
The Splendid Octopus: Forbidding Looks, Toothsome Texture
An Existential, Lyrical, and Unconventional Soliloquy on Isolation
Girls’ High School Reunions: Friendships Lasting through the Golden Years
JOURNEYS IN KOREAN LITERATURE
A Modern Take on Tradition
Wolf Schröder: ‘In eSports, the Best in Korea is the Best in the World’
SPECIAL FEATURE 5
Baekje Emerges from a Royal Tomb
Kim Moon-jung, Charismatic Music Director Attuned to Musicals
GUARDIAN OF HERITAGE
SPECIAL FEATURE 3
We are All Haruo
At Least Half a Haruo Lee Jang-wook
“K-Style: Living the Korean Way of Life” Timely Book on the ‘Whys’ of Korean Ways
http://www.onemoretrip.net Online Marketplace of Korea Travel Products Charles La Shure, Kim Hoo-ran
COVER “Five-story Stone Pagoda on Jeongnim Temple Site” Yoo Youn-bin 2011. Ink and color on mulberry paper, 30cm x 30cm.
SPECIAL FEATURE 1 Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
BAEKJE UNDER THE MOONLIGHT 4 KOREANA Summer 2017
Lee Chang-guy Poet and Literary Critic Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
When night falls on the Gong Mountain Fortress on a hilly stretch overlooking the Geum River, the lights come on along the fortress walls. With a total length of 2,660 meters, the fortress was built in A.D. 475, making use of the natural terrain to great advantage, to protect Baekjeâ€™s new capital Ungjin (present-day Gongju in South Chungcheong Province).
The Baekje Kingdom, founded in 18 B.C., flourished culturally as it ruled the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula. One of the ancient Three Kingdoms along with Silla and Goguryeo, it was defeated by the allied forces of Silla and Tang China in A.D. 660, eight years before Goguryeo also fell, leading to the first unified nation of the Korean people. Though Baekje was the most active of the three kingdoms in exchanges with China and Japan and played a pivotal role in the East Asian region, after its fall much of its history was distorted and then forgotten. However, thanks to the discovery of many archaeological sites and relics in modern times, the true face of Baekje has gradually come to light. We take a trip back to the past in search of its legacy. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 5
n July 15, 2015, at its 39th session convened in Bonn, Germany, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed the “Baekje Historic Areas” on the World Heritage List, in recognition of the ancient Korean state’s contribution to the development of East Asian civilization. The World Heritage property comprises eight archaeological sites in three cities: the Gong Mountain Fortress and the royal tomb group of Songsan-ri in Gongju; the Gwanbuk-ri remains of government offices, the Buso Mountain Fortress, the royal tombs of Neungsan-ri, and the Naseong city wall in Buyeo; and the palace site at Wanggung-ri and the Mireuk Temple site in Iksan. Through seasons of sun, wind, rain, and sleet, these ancient walls, temples, and pagodas have witnessed the lives of Koreans for more than 1,300 years.
History Takes Shape Not long ago, many of Baekje’s monuments lay buried underground. Then, in the summer of 1971, one of the ancient tombs in Songsan-ri was identified as that of King Muryeong, the 25th ruler of Baekje, and in December 1993, the Neungsan-ri tombs were confirmed as belonging to Baekje royalty when a gorgeous gilt-bronze incense burner and other relics were discovered at the nearby site of a royal temple. In 1975, excavations began on the ancient city wall of Buyeo. Being an earthen fortress, it had not been detected easily, but to this day varied relics big and small continue to be discovered in the vicinity. The location of the eastern pagoda at the Mireuk Temple site was clearly identified in 1974, but it was not until 1989 that the scale of the detached palace site in Wanggung-ri came to be properly understood. Similar circumstances applied in the discovery of a large earthen fortress in Wiryeseong, Baekje’s first capital along the Han River in the southeastern part of Seoul. Though not included in the World Heritage designation, the fortress is a remainder of the ancient state’s first five centuries, when its foundations were laid with the
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development of agriculture and production of iron implements. The Pungnap Earthen Fortress, believed to have stood in the northern part of the old capital, was discovered in 1925 due to flooding, but it was not until a large number of Baekje artifacts were unearthed during an apartment construction project in 1997 that the fortress attracted the attention of scholars. The Mongchon Earthen Fortress, a similar fortification believed to have formed the southern downtown part of the capital, was found in 1980. Resurfacing after all this time, these archaeological sites and relics are a testament to Baekje’s outstanding technology, its unique aesthetic based on the philosophical traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, and its exchanges with China, Japan, and other parts of East Asia during its almost 700 years in existence. Now, leaving it to the scholars to discuss the value and significance of these wonderful pieces of physical evidence, discovered largely by chance after being buried in the ground or covered in thick layers of dirt for centuries, I will attempt to explore Baekje’s influence on the psyche of the Korean people. It is an ambitious endeavor, but admittedly my only resource is an amateur’s interest in the subject. This interest budded from the realization that, when exposed to the sunlight, things re-creating the past are always connected to vague and hazy elements that are somewhat obscure. These elements embody the past in their own ways. They neither grow old nor change, and they do not forget. Hence, they are guardians of the past.
Called Up to Heal the Wounds of Modern War The first Baekje Festival kicked off in Buyeo on April 18, 1955, two days behind schedule. The opening ceremony had been postponed when spring rain unexpectedly turned into a storm. Buyeo was a royal capital of Baekje where six kings reigned for a combined 123 years, including the last monarch, King Uija. The festival began with a memorial rite for the past kings of Baekje and ran for five days, ending with a rite for the souls of the three thousand royal court ladies who, as legend has it, threw themselves off a cliff into the river below, mourning the fall of their country, as their king and army fell to the allied forces of Silla and Tang. The festival attracted 20,000 people from across the country, who filled the local inns and restaurants to bursting. Considering the social conditions and means of transportation at the time, it was a truly amazing crowd. The highlight of the festival was the enshrinement of spirit tablets memorializing three loyal subjects of Baekje — Seongchung, Heungsu, and Gyebaek — heroic figures who had tried but failed to save their kingdom from demise. It was a grand spectacle with hundreds of students and soldiers taking part in the ritual procession. However, the success of the festival and the popularity of the Baengma River and Nakhwaam (Rock of Falling Flowers), from where the court ladies are said to have jumped to their death, as a tourist attraction do not sufficiently explain why local residents
1 The walls of Gong Mountain Fortress rise and dip following the contours of the land. Its ramparts today are topped by promenades offering splendid views of the city of Gongju to visitors strolling up and down the old walls, enjoying the cool breeze from the river. 2 The five-story stone pagoda at the Jeongnim Temple site in Buyeo (National Treasure No. 9), built in the mid-seventh century and standing 8.8 meters high, is one of two stone pagodas from the Three Kingdoms period remaining in old Baekje territory. The Baekje people developed a new type of stone pagoda built in the form of wooden pagodas, which became the prototype of the unique Korean Buddhist pagoda style perfected during the Unified Silla period.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 7
There are people who have not returned home, although the night has fallen. Those who went missing left their short lives behind, with nowhere to go because nobody has called out their names. The moonlight embraces and caresses the damaged, erased, and distorted traces of their lives, scattered through the mountains and rivers of what once was their homeland — Baekje.
were so devoted to the project, voluntarily raising funds for it. In addition, it happened before the underground remains of Baekje were brought to light, at a time when the public’s pride in their history and culture was not particularly high. Perhaps the only feasible explanation may be that the festival was an occasion to foster solidarity and reconciliation. The Korean War (1950–1953) resulted in more than three million deaths. This figure includes those who died in massacres and acts of political retribution in both the North and the South. After the ceasefire in 1953, local communities were left with the task of soothing and healing the wounds left by national division and internecine conflict. In Buyeo, influential figures put their heads together and came up with the idea of storytelling. They proposed an event to honor the three loyal subjects of Baekje, who risked everything and eventually gave their lives to save their country from impending
1 The ferry on the Baengma River passes the 40-meter-high Nakhwaam, “The Rock of Falling Flowers.” Legend has it that 3,000 court ladies threw themselves from the rock into the river below when Baekje fell in A.D. 660. A small temple named Gosansa, built on the mid-slope of the cliff in the 11th century to appease their souls, still survives today. 2 The Neungsan-ri complex of ancient royal tombs comprises seven tombs of Baekje royalty from the period when Sabi (Buyeo) was the capital of Baekje. The cluster of tumuli sits mid-slope on the southern face of the mountain in Neungsanri, 121 meters above sea level.
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conquest, as well as the three thousand court ladies. The rites held to enshrine the spirits of these Baekje heroes thus stood in for rites to console the souls of the Buyeo community, whose families had been torn apart by war. Ten years later, in 1965, the event was transformed into a large-scale regional cultural festival, with generous support from the government. Playwright Oh Tae-seok’s “Moonlit Night on the Baengma River” (1993; Baengmagang dalbame ), which adopts the framework of byeolsinje , a shamanic rite handed down in the Buyeo region, proved a controversial work for the connection it drew between the Korean War and the fall of Baekje. The community rite for offering prayers to the village guardian spirits originated from a folk tale. A long time ago, an epidemic raged through the local village of Eunsan. One night, a military commander riding a white horse appeared in an old man’s dream, telling him that the dead bodies of Baekje soldiers lay scattered all over the place with no one to take care of them. If the villagers gathered them up, he promised to get rid of the plague. The villagers did as instructed in the old man’s dream, retrieving the bodies and holding a rite for the souls of the dead. The plague disappeared and peace returned. When “Moonlit Night on the Baengma River” was staged anew in the summer of 2014, the director and playwright substantially revised his original work. Critics acclaimed the new version, saying, “By focusing on reconciliation among the Baekje soldiers, King Uija, and Sundan (the daughter of the old shaman presiding over the village rite, who is also the reincarnation of a Silla spy), the narrative is clearer and more concise compared to the original.” However, in the process of revising the play, the allegorical connection between the Korean War and the fall of Baekje disappeared. Also deleted was the tantalizing comment “Whether they are Baekje soldiers or victims of a communist massacre” in the scene where the bones of 17 bodies are found at the village entrance, by the foot of the wall that stood around the old capital of Baekje. The gaps left by the removal of the subtle historical connection were filled with the author’s characteristic wordplay and humor. Hyeon Jin-geon (1900–1943) was a brilliant writer who, in the early days of modern Korean literature, introduced a model for realist writing based on his profound exploration of social and cultural issues as well as his clear national consciousness. While working as a journalist during the Japanese colonial rule, he was imprisoned for his involvement in airbrushing the Japanese flag out of a photograph of the award ceremony when Korean marathoner
Sohn Kee-chung won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 as a member of the Japanese team. This incident turned Hyeon’s life upside down. He had to leave his job at a newspaper, and thereafter sell his house and work all kinds of jobs to survive. His short life ended after a bout of tuberculosis.
Perishing and Leaving the Soul Behind It is no coincidence that in Hyeon’s 1939 novel, “Shadowless Pagoda” (Muyeongtap ), the protagonists are Asadal, the Baekje stonemason who made Muyeongtap in Gyeongju (commonly known as Seokgatap, or the Sakyamuni Pagoda), and his wife, Asanyeo. Hyeon published two more novels set in the Baekje Kingdom: “General Heukchi Sangji” (Heukchi sangji) in 1940 and “Princess Seonhwa” (Seonhwa gongju) in 1941. Before the serialization of “General Heukchi Sangji” in a newspaper, the author said, “The past is more realistic than the present because it possesses integrity that the present does not and cannot have. It has a greater power to convey reality that makes the heart beat and the blood run faster than anything gathered from present facts.” Featuring a hero who refuses to bow to foreign invaders and successfully leads a retaliatory strike by Baekje, the novel was stopped in the middle of its serialization under pressure from the Japanese government-general. “Princess Seonhwa,” based on the story of the boy who would become King Mu of Baekje, was serialized in a monthly magazine, but it too was stopped before its completion. In “Shadowless Pagoda,” Hyeon’s adoption of a Baekje mason
taken to the rival Silla may be owing to many records extant of Baekje wood and stone craftsmen who built Buddhist temples and pagodas in Silla. But Hyeon was the first writer to give one a name: Asadal. He would have been pleased with himself for coming up with the name, in view of its symbolic value to the Korean people. According to the “History of the Three Kingdoms” (Samguk sagi), it was the name Korea’s mythical founding father, Dangun, gave to his first capital; it means “land of morning sunlight.” To give an idea of its significance, “Shadowless Pagoda” is the story of conflict amongst Asadal, a mason from the fallen nation of Baekje; Juman, the daughter of an aristocratic Silla family who falls in love with him; and Asadal’s wife Asanyeo, who grows tired of waiting for her husband to return home and sets out for Gyeongju to meet him. The work of poet Shin Dong-yeop (1930–1969), born in Buyeo during the Japanese colonial period, is rooted in the sense of place unique to the city. Lines such as “The old granny with a runny nose / selling noodles / under the sunlight at the house of the funeral biers” or “The timeless sleepiness / of the village apricot trees” are not mere lyrical memories of his hometown. Using his historical imagination, Shin jumps from ancient Baekje to the Donghak Peasant Rebellion (1894–95) and the March 1st Independence Movement (1919), and finally lands in the Korean War (1950–53) and the April 19 Revolution (1960) in modern Korea. Asadal and Asanyeo often appear in his poems as protagonists or narrators. He maintains the imaginary roles of characters created by Hyeon Jin-geon, then turns them into neighbors suffering in the midst of war and KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 9
The five-story stone pagoda in Wanggung-ri in Iksan, North Jeolla Province, dating to the early Goryeo Dynasty, exhibits the form of Baekje stone pagodas as well as the stone pagoda style that further evolved during the Unified Silla period. Designated National Treasure No. 289, the pagoda stands 8.5 meters high. It is presumed that Wanggungri, which means “Village of the King's Palace,” was planned to serve as the new capital of Baekje.
poverty as embodiments of a divided nation. Shin’s humanist approach to history culminates in the epic poem “Geum River” (Geumgang ). He regards “the simple, blameless ordinary people who have been chased for ten thousand years” with both compassion and rage, and gives structure to incidents of the past as a way to understand history. If his success lies in bringing history into the present, his failure derives from the conceptualization of history. The following lines from “Geum River,” however, can be used to refute what I have just said:
Baekje, From long ago a place where Things gather, Rot, And fall to ruin. Instead Leaving fertilizer behind. Geumgang, From long ago a place where Things gather, Rot, And fall to ruin. Instead Leaving the spirit behind. — From Chapter 23, “Geum River”
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A monument to the poet, who “pained for the wounded fatherland” through his own poverty and compassion, stands at the site of Naseong, Buyeo’s ancient outer city wall, stretching from the Buso Mountain Fortress to the banks of the Geum River.
Rewriting the Stories of the Defeated “Fake news” is a problem not only of the present but also of the past. The stories of the victors are always exaggerated and spread far and wide, but the stories of the defeated are barely sustained, like the sigh-filled ramblings of old women. That is also true for the stories of Baekje. Against the ingenuity and courage of the victors, the incompetence and degradation of the losers appears all the more conspicuous. Over the ages, this simple schema has tenaciously persisted, with the past ever more internalized and fragmented depending on the perceptions and emotions of those who recalled it. The tragic story of the “rock where people fell to their deaths” in the midst of war has been turned into the “rock of falling flowers” where three thousand court ladies jumped into the river out of loyalty to their country. It would seem that a narrative based on objective facts is neither necessary nor important. “Jeongeupsa,” the only surviving gayo (poetic song) from the Baekje period, starts with the line, “Oh, moon, up so high in the sky.” Popular through the Goryeo and Joseon periods, it was sung, according to the “History of Goryeo” (Goryeosa ), by the wife of a peddler as she waited for her husband who had gone to market to
sell his wares. She went up on a rock and asked the moon to shine its light around so that her husband would not come to harm on his way back home. To commemorate this song, the municipal gugak orchestra of Jeongeup city, in North Jeolla Province, holds various traditional Korean music performances every month around the time of the full moon. To be sure, popular songs today about Baekje all talk about moonlit nights, and with the moon, there is always mention of the Baengma River, waterfowl, serenity, small boats, or the sound of a distant bell. In the preface of his epic novel, “Mountains and Rivers” (Sanha), Lee Byeong-ju (1921–1992), a journalist and novelist, writes: “If it fades in the sunlight it becomes history; if it is washed with moonlight it becomes legend.” One could say that Baekje is washed with moonlight. When dusk gives way to night, the lights at the fortress around its ancient royal capital come on one by one, and here and there, the fortress walls bare their shoulders up against the blue-black sky, as though they are calling out to someone standing far away on the other side of the river. There are people who have not returned home, although the night has fallen. Those who went missing left their short lives behind, with nowhere to go because nobody has called out their names. The moonlight embraces and caresses the damaged, erased, and distorted traces of their lives, scattered through the mountains and rivers of what once was their homeland — Baekje.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 11
SPECIAL FEATURE 2 Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
PIECING TOGETHER THE REMNANTS OF AN ANCIENT KINGDOM
Choi Yeon Geographer; Principal of the Seoul School, Center for Humanities Studies Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
From its first capital Wiryeseong, later known as Hanseong, Baekje twice relocated the capital southward. During the Hanseong period (18 B.C.â€“A.D. 475), before the capital was moved to Ungjin (present-day Gongju), the Baekje people built fortresses to protect their capital along the hills of the Han River basin. They formed settlements in the adjacent areas and produced crops. Today, the Gangdong and Songpa districts in southeastern Seoul harbor their remains amid rows of ultramodern buildings and high-rise apartment complexes.
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Tomb No. 3 in the Baekje tomb complex in Seokchon-dong, southeastern Seoul, is believed to be the burial place of King Geunchogo, who significantly expanded Baekjeâ€™s territory and power. Similar in style to Goguryeo tombs, it indicates the close ties between the ruling elite of the two ancient kingdoms.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 13
ut of South Korea’s total population of approximately 50 million, around 20 million live in the nation’s capital, Seoul, and the surrounding metropolitan area. Seoul is a city with a rich history, the cradle of diverse cultures spread over some 2,000 years from the Baekje period to the 21st century. Regrettably, the city has not been able to fully express the depth and breadth of its heritage. Much of the country’s cultural heritage was destroyed during the Khitan and Mongol invasions of Goryeo (918–1392), and the Japanese and Qing invasions of Joseon (1392–1910). In the 20th century, the country was ravaged yet again during Japan’s colonial occupation and the Korean War. A significant portion of the cultural remains that did manage to survive these upheavals were lost later when industrial and economic development swept the country. One may say that the remnants of Seoul’s historical and cultural heritage exist as “dots.” Only when the dots are connected and become lines, the lines become planes, and the planes are reconstructed into three-dimensional structures, will we be able to fully appreciate the city’s historical and cultural value.
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A State Founded in the Han River Basin In the East Asian tradition, the life of all living beings is perceived in terms of organic relationships between heaven, earth, and humans. The land on which people live is largely made up of mountains and rivers, which are forever interconnected, sharing both mutually inverse and beneficial relationships. Water that arises from where two mountain ranges meet flows along the valleys and gorges surrounded by the mountains; from remote ancient times, people settled near these water sources. During the Three Kingdoms period from the first century B.C. to the seventh century, when Baekje, Silla, and Goguryeo competed and cooperated with one another as circumstances demanded, they frequently waged wars to seize the Han River basin at the heart of the Korean peninsula. Prior to these territorial contests, Baekje was the first to occupy the region. There are various views as to the founding of Baekje, but it is generally believed to have been founded by the brothers Onjo and Biryu, who left the kingdom of Buyeo in today’s northeastern China and came south with a small group of vassals. They were the sons of King Dongmyeong, or Jumong, founder of Goguryeo; the younger brother, Onjo, settled in the Han River basin, while his older brother, Biryu, settled in Michuhol (presentday Incheon). Onjo initially named his country Sipje after the ten (sip) vassals who had followed him. When his brother died, Onjo welcomed Biryu’s people into his land and renamed his country Baekje, manifesting his now much larger contingent of vassals, baek meaning one hundred. Advancing further south, they took 40 kilometers of land ceded by Mokji, leader of the 54 states comprising the Mahan confederacy that ruled the area of today’s Gyeonggi, Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces. Eventually, they annexed Mokji, becoming the leading power in the confederacy and consolidating the foundations for Baekje. In its early years, Baekje was divided into five administrative regions; the king only ruled directly over the capital while the other areas were governed indirectly through local administrative heads. But it soon established its ruling system as an ancient kingdom and built fortifications to strengthen its defenses and accommodate the increasing population. Thus were built two earthen fortresses, Pungnap and Mongchon, the former on flat land with residents living inside its walls and the latter on an adjacent hilly area to be used in times of emergency. The Pungnap Earthen Fortress was located north of the royal palace, hence called the northern fortress, while the Mongchon Earthen Fortress was situated south, hence the southern fortress. This dual fortress system is mirrored in Goguryeo’s Gungnae Fortress and Hwando Mountain Fortress in northeastern China.
2 1 Wooden palisades are restored along the northern edge of the Mongchon Earthen Fortress. 2 The moat surrounding the Mongchon Earthen Fortress has been turned into a pond.
The royal palace is believed to have been located inside the fortress walls. According to the “History of the Three Kingdoms” (Samguk sagi), the palace had many buildings that were “modest but not shabby, magnificent but not extravagant.” KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 15
History Gleaned from the Ruins The Pungnap Earthen Fortress was built on flat land along the Han River. The fortress walls measure 3,470 meters in circumference, 6–13.3 meters in height, and 30–70 meters in width, and were surrounded by a moat to deter enemy intrusions. The fortress is of a long oval shape stretching north and south; the east wall stretches over approximately 1,500 meters, the south wall 200 meters, and the north wall 300 meters. The west wall was destroyed by heavy floods in 1925, but has since been restored. The walls are disconnected in four places, where the city gates are assumed to have been situated. The royal palace is believed to have been located inside the fortress walls. According to the “History of the Three Kingdoms” (Samguk sagi), the palace had many buildings that were “modest but not shabby, magnificent but not extravagant.” Excavations have revealed a three-tier ditch around the village facilities and fortress walls, with various artifacts found relatively intact. The ruins of roads and water holes indicate that the palace had many state facilities within its walls. The Mongchon Earthen Fortress, located some 700 meters southeast of the Pungnap Earthen Fortress, has a unique structure with outer and inner walls built on hilly land descending from a high mountain. The walls were made by piling up mud, and steep slopes were cut when necessary. Wooden palisades were erected along the northern edge of the fortress, with a moat outside providing additional protection, which has now been turned into a pond. The fortress walls total 2,285 meters in length when measured from the highest point, and overall, the height is around 30 meters. The northeastern section of the outer wall was built in a straight line measuring approximately 270 meters. Traces of wooden palisades on the northern slope and the highest point of the outer wall, a steeper incline created on the east side, and a moat surrounding the outer wall all suggest that the fortress served as a base to guard against invasions from the north.
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1 The cross section of a replica of the wall of the Pungnap Earthen Fortress is on display in the lobby of the Seoul Baekje Museum. It shows the layers of earth piled up to build the fortification. 2 The Seoul Baekje Museum, located inside the Seoul Olympic Park, offers diverse exhibitions highlighting the prehistoric era before the founders of Baekje settled in the Han River basin, as well as their two neighbors Goguryeo and Silla, who later occupied the region.
Baekje History Tour in Seoul Gwangnaru Subway Station
Cheonho Bridge Pungnap Earthen Fortress
Han River Seoul Olympic Park North Gate Mongchon Earthen Fortress Seoul Olympic Park World Peace Gate
Mongchon Museum of History Seoul Baekje Museum
TIME TRAVEL TO BAEKJE ON FOOT Tombs of Baekje
Fortress for a Dual Purpose Vestiges of a storage pit and military facilities, such as a stamped dirt mound where a watchtower presumably stood, support the assumption that the fortress functioned as a bastion against enemy attacks and a shelter for people evacuated in times of emergency. Recent excavations and surveys brought to light an 18.6-meter-wide, two-lane road. It is the largest among the roads dating from the Baekje period and the oldest two-lane road discovered in the country to date. Passing through the north gate of the Mongchon Earthen Fortress, it was presumably the main road connecting the two fortresses. After Baekje relocated its capital southward and this area became Goguryeo territory, the road was repaired and extended three times. Paved with a mixture of stones, weathered soil, and clay, the road is so hard that no wagon wheel impressions are found on it. Among other important artifacts discovered here are fragments of a Baekje pottery jar with a short neck and straight mouth, inscribed with the Chinese character 官 (gwan), meaning a government office. This is the first piece of earthenware with such an inscription unearthed from the ruins of the Baekje period, which reaffirms that this fortress was not just a defensive structure but a fortified city. Tombs of the Baekje ruling class are scattered around
Surrounding Lotte World, a major recreation and shopping complex in Jamsil, southeastern Seoul, is Seokchon Lake. It was originally part of the Han River, but was turned into a lake when the direction of the river’s flow was altered in the 1970s for protection against floods. It is divided into the east and west lake, and standing on the slope of the west lake is the Samjeondo Monument marking the surrender of Joseon to Qing after the second Manchu invasion (1636–1637). Starting from here, walk halfway around the west lake, then down the road running through the densely populated residential area in the south until you reach the ancient tombs of Baekje in Bangi-dong. After looking around the stone mound tombs and other tombs dating back to the Hanseong period (18 B.C.–A.D. 475) of Baekje, head to the Seoul Olympic Park. The Seoul Olympic Park, built on land that was originally the site of the Mongchon Earthen Fortress, contains the main indoor stadiums that were built for the 1988 Summer Olympics. In the front garden of the Seoul Baekje Museum, also located inside the park, you can appreciate sculptures by world famous artists. Next, you can enjoy a leisurely walk along the gentle slopes of the ancient ramparts and then perhaps make a stop at the Mongchon Museum of History, a fun place to learn about the history of the Baekje Kingdom. If you exit the park through North Gate 1, walk past the Gangdong District Office, and cross the main road, you will find Youngpa Girls’ High School. Walk along the school wall toward the residential area, and the gentle curves of another fortification, the imposing Pungnap Earthen Fortress, will come into view. This walking tour of the historic sites of Baekje from the first five centuries of its rule will take a good full day. It can be strenuous but walking is the best way to truly appreciate this area, where the modern and ancient intersect.
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the present-day Seokchon-dong, Garak-dong, and Bangi-dong areas, south of the two fortresses. The third volume of “Illustrated Records of Historic Sites in Korea” (Joseon gojeok dobo ), published in 1916 during the Japanese colonial era, says that 66 stone mound tombs and 23 earthen mound tombs existed in the area. Currently, only seven large stone mound tombs as well as 30 or so wooden and pottery coffin tombs remain. The fact that stone mound tombs, which are associated with Goguryeo, have been found in this area indicates that the founders of Baekje had close ties to their northern neighbors. Small wooden coffin tombs belonging to commoners or officials from different historical periods have also been found in the area. Between the third and fifth centuries, tombs belonging to people of various ranks were constructed in today’s Seokchon-dong area, forming a tomb complex. Tomb No. 3, the largest among them, is a pyramidshaped stone mound tomb 4.5 meters high, the longest side measuring 45.5 meters, and the shortest 43.7 meters. Currently, only three stone tiers remain of the tomb, which is presumed to have been built between the mid-third and fourth centuries. King Geunchogo (r. 346–375), the 13th ruler of Baekje who significantly expanded its territory and power, is believed to be buried here. After the capital was relocated to present-day Gongju in 475, the tombs of the ruling class changed in style from square stone mounds to stone burial chambers covered with earthen mounds. The tomb of King Muryeong (r. 501–523), discovered in 1971, was the first stone chamber tomb with a horizontal entranceway, which became the prevalent type of royal tomb in all three kingdoms from around this time.
Searching for the Remaining Puzzle Pieces With development of the Jamsil district in the 1970s, the “time capsule” of Baekje, as this area is known, changed rapidly amid conflict between urban development and heritage preservation. In the 1980s, it was chosen as the site of the Seoul Olympic Stadium, and various sports arenas and facilities were built throughout the area. Thus the 1988 Summer Olympics were held where the ancient capital of Baekje once stood, bearing witness to history and culture spanning 2,000 years. The city that was constructed over five centuries with the wisdom and labor of the Baekje people has disappeared; in its place are rows of high-rise apartment buildings that are among the most expensive in Seoul. The urban development and renewal projects, such as the construction of apartment complexes, roads, and Olympic venues, did yield some positive results in that they led to the unexpected discovery of ancient relics buried underground. Efforts are ongoing to restore the ancient city and the lives of its residents, connecting the dots into lines, and lines into planes, and planes into three-dimensional structures.
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The Mongchon Earthen Fortress, excavated and surveyed six times in the 1980s, is now parkland for the citizens of Seoul.
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SPECIAL FEATURE 3 Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
BAEKJE EMERGES FROM A ROYAL TOMB ÂŠ Gongju National Museum
A lack of research materials on the Baekje Kingdom had left its culture largely unknown before the discovery of a kingâ€™s tomb began to reveal its essence. Found by accident in 1971 in the process of building a drainage system in a Baekje royal graveyard in Songsan-ri, in its old capital Gongju, the tomb of King Muryeong is the only royal sepulcher from the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.-A.D. 668) with identified occupants. 20 KOREANA Summer 2017
Kim Tae-shik Journalist; Researcher, Research Institute of National Land and Cultural Heritage
ocated in the East Asian Monsoon region, the Korean peninsula entered into yet another rainy season in the summer of 1971. A rainy spell often means disaster at a cultural heritage site, but that year in Gongju, it was a blessing in disguise. Along with Silla and Goguryeo, the Baekje Kingdom, which lasted for almost 700 years from its foundation in 18 B.C., was one of the Three Kingdoms which prospered in ancient Korea. In Gongju, the second capital of Baekje, located in current South Chungcheong Province, there is a cluster of royal tombs in Songsan-ri, at the southern foot of a low hill, with the Geum River flowing through the city from the north. At this historic site, where the soft contours of ancient burial mounds create a cozy atmosphere, the discovery of the tomb of Baekje’s 25th monarch, King Muryeong (r. 501–523), and his wife came about serendipitously through rainfall.
Drainage System Maintenance for Rainy Season The 16th-century book “Revised and Augmented Survey of the Geography of Korea" (Sinjeung dongguk yeoji seungnam) has an entry on Gongju describing the royal tombs in Songsan-ri: “There is a county school 3 li to the west of the town, with a cluster of old tombs to its west. They are said to be royal tombs from Baekje but the exact occupants are unknown.” The tombs had already been noted in the Joseon era as belonging to Baekje kings. Later, in the early half of the 20th century, excavations revealed that the site was a royal cemetery created during 475–538 when Ungjin (present-day Gongju) was the kingdom’s capital, although the owner of each grave was not clarified. In the early 1970s, with six mounds of presumed royal tombs exposed, the area was registered as a state-designated historic site. Every summer, the ancient tombs suffered damage from downpours because rainwater flowing down from the back hill would seep into the underground burial chambers. To protect the two mounds (No. 5 and No. 6) lying next to each other in an east-west direction, the Office of Cultural Properties (the current Cultural Heritage Administration) under the Ministry of Culture and Information decided to dig a drainage channel running parallel with them, about three meters away toward the back hill. Work began on June 29, when the monsoonal front started to move northward toward Korea’s southern coast, with the aim of finishing it before the rain began. A week later, at around 2 p.m. on July 5, one of the workers digging the channel hit a river rock with his spade. “A river rock down in the ground? I knew instantly something was strange, because river rocks were used for tombs. Digging deeper, I came to a solid brick structure, and the dirt that turned up contained lime. Eventually, my pickax clanged on something hard — traditional bricks,” said Kim Yeongil, then site manager from the contractor Samnam Construction. This moment heralded the unexpected discovery of a magnificent royal tomb and a landmark event in the history of Korean archaeology. The pickax had touched on the ceiling for the southern part of the passageway to the main chamber, built entirely of traditional bricks. At this point, no one knew who was interred in the tomb although the brickwork and layout, which closely resembled Tomb No. 6 directly in front of it, led those on site to believe it was an untouched royal burial chamber.
The main chamber of the tomb of King Muryeong, viewed from the passageway. The tomb was found in 1971 in a Baekje royal graveyard in Songsanri, Gongju. Under the vault, built by stacking up bricks of different shapes and patterns, the rectangular chamber contained the wooden coffins of the Baekje king and his wife, which had collapsed under the weight of time.
A Nightlong Downpour What were they supposed to do with the newly discovered brick tomb? The site manager immediately reported the discovery to Kim Yeong-bae, director of the Gongju branch of the National Museum of Korea (the current Gongju National Museum). The museum was obliged to report it to the Office of Cultural Properties to obtain permission for excavation, but under the excitement of finding a new royal tomb from Baekje, the proper procedures were ignored. On the same day, museum officials rushed to start digging up the site with some local archaeologists, and became convinced that it was indeed a Baekje royal tomb built with traditional bricks. The Office of Cultural Properties was informed of the discovery the next day, July 6, by the Gongju municipal government. The office sent staff to the site to investigate the situation, ordered an immediate halt to any unauthorized digging, and decided to organize a formal excavation team. On July 7, the KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 21
The discovery of King Muryeong’s tomb brought Baekje’s history out of obscurity. Baekje had remained a dark corner in ancient Korean history due to a shortage of relevant literature, but the relics from the tomb provided solid evidence that shed light on the ancient kingdom’s history from diverse perspectives.
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team arrived. It was led by Kim Won-ryong, the then director of the National Museum of Korea, and included researchers from the Cultural Properties Research Institute affiliated to the Office of Cultural Properties, such as Cho Yu-jeon and Ji Gon-gil (see box). The excavation began at 4 p.m. on the same day. After just two hours, however, a sudden torrent of rain came down. The site was flooded and rainwater threatened to leak into the royal burial chamber. The team was compelled to abandon the site, leaving only the construction crew, who struggled through the pitchblack night to dig a drainage ditch. In the meantime, the excavation team gathered at a motel in downtown Gongju to discuss how to proceed with the excavation, and decided to resume work the next day.
The Excavation Site Buzzes with Excitement The sky cleared the next day and the sun shone brightly. Having resumed the excavation at 5 a.m. on July 8, the team successfully uncovered the entrance of the passageway leading to the main chamber. Clearly, it was another Baekje royal tomb. At 4 p.m., before the tomb was finally opened, a simple memorial rite was held for its occupants, with three dried pollacks and rice wine placed on a small table. At last, the team started to remove the bricks blocking the entrance one by one. When the dark passageway was unsealed for the first time in 1,500 years, a cool draught blew from the inside like a whiff of white vapor or cool air coming from a car’s air conditioner in midsummer. As an opening large enough for human access was secured, Kim Won-ryong and Kim Yeong-bae went into the tomb holding an incandescent lantern. The passageway was a bleak tunnel, the ceiling a bit lower than the height of an average man. The roots of acacia trees hanging down from the arched ceiling made it look like
1 Found in the tomb of King Muryeong, the ornaments for the king’s crown, cut out in honeysuckle design from pure gold plate, resemble flames of fire. Length: 30.7cm. Width: 14cm. National Treasure No. 154. Gongju National Museum. 2 The ornaments for the queen’s crown were found at the head part of her coffin. Length: 22.2cm. Width: 13.4cm. National Treasure No. 155. National Museum of Korea. 3 The excavation team conducts a simple memorial rite before removing bricks blocking the tomb of King Muryeong on July 8, 1971.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MISGUIDED EXCAVATION 3
“It might sound like an excuse, but I have to comfort myself with the thought that such was the level of Korean archaeology at the time. However, I’m grateful for the painful lessons we learned from that mistake. All following archaeological projects were carried out more carefully, based on meticulous plans.” Ji Gon-gil, former director of the National Museum of Korea, refers to the 1970s when he worked in Gyeongju, the old capital of Silla, as the pinnacle of his archaeological career. Fondly, he keeps looking back to the time when he unearthed the two royal tombs — the Tomb of the Heavenly Horse (Cheonmachong) and the Great Tomb of Hwangnam (Hwangnam Daechong) — from 1973 to 1976. While it was an honor for him to work on those projects, Ji says, the excavation of King Muryeong’s tomb remains a source of irrevocable shame. Currently serving as chairman of the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, Ji graduated from Seoul National University with a major in archaeology and anthropology, before entering officialdom in November 1968 as a researcher at the Office of Cultural Properties (predecessor of the Cultural Heritage Administration). On July 7, 1971, he was abruptly ordered to go to Gongju with a few of his colleagues. Before he got there, he had no idea that an ancient tomb, presumably of Baekje royalty, had been discovered, and that he would be responsible for investigating it. “None of us heading for Gongju knew anything about it,” he recalls. “Upon our arrival, we were stunned at the sight of an ancient brick tomb with its front slightly exposed.” Although he was just a young researcher who was not in a position to make decisions, he has been tormented by the fact that he took a leading role in a project recorded in archaeological history as a ludicrously slapdash excavation. “The tomb of King Muryeong was excavated in a chaotic and careless manner, with the entire process from the discovery to the actual excavation exposed in real time to the media and the local community. In the uproar and excitement, our team found it hard to keep cool and rational,” he recalls. In fact, there’s another thing that Ji regrets about the excavation. At the time, one of his duties was to take photos, the primary evidence for the original condition of the site, with all the relics in their right positions. However, he produced few good photographic materials, and most of the scanty number of photos available were taken by reporters on the site. What happened? “Inside the tomb, I worked hard photographing the chamber. It was only after I developed my films back at the Seoul office that I realized something was wrong with the photos. I had taken a brand new camera to the site, so I was clumsy with handling it. Some of the shots were exposed on one-half of the frame, and only a few cuts could be saved,” he explains.
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1 Gilt-bronze shoes found at the feet part inside the king’s coffin. Length: 35cm. Gongju National Museum. 2 One of the two stone slabs found halfway along the tomb’s passageway is engraved with the statement that the land for the tomb was purchased from the gods of heaven and earth, along with the name of the occupant, date of death, and date of burial. Width: 41.5cm. Length: 35cm. Thickness: 5cm. National Treasure No. 163. Gongju National Museum. 3 A stone guardian animal found along the passageway. Length: 47cm. Height: 30cm. Width: 22cm. National Treasure No. 162. Gongju National Museum. 4 Visitors to the Gongju National Museum look around the exhibits, including the wooden coffins for the royal couple and the guardian animal, restored almost to their original state.
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a haunted place. Halfway along, they ran into a fierce-looking stone animal resembling a boar with a horn on its forehead, seemingly there to protect the tomb and ward off evil spirits from outside. At the end of the passageway was a rectangular chamber with a vaulted ceiling. It was not very large, and the floor was strewn with what in the gloom looked like dingy planks of wood. They turned out to be wooden coffins that had collapsed under the weight of time. Golden relics peeked through the gaps. The two archaeologists could hardly believe their eyes, their intuition telling them that it had never been touched by human hands since the burial. “Discovering an undamaged tomb from Baekje! A royal tomb at that!” They could not contain their excitement.
Who is Buried in the Tomb? Their euphoria reached a climax on their way out when they found two stone slabs in front of the menacing stone animal halfway along the passage. The lantern light revealed characters carved in classical Chinese which were interpreted to mean “King Sama of Baekje, the great general who brought peace to the east.” Sama was a title conferred on King Muryeong of Baekje by the emperor of the Liang Dynasty (502–557), one of the southern dynasties of China. Kim Won-ryong recollects the moment: “I was so stunned that I was beside myself.” Kim Won-ryong’s extreme excitement at finding out the identity of the tomb’s occupant impaired his judgment, and he ended up allowing the excavation to be conducted in an unprecedentedly haphazard manner. An experienced archaeologist should have calmed himself down, brought all work to a halt, and invested time in devising a detailed action plan. Kim, however, opted for an immediate excavation. Further clouding his judgment was the chaotic atmosphere, with a large crowd of reporters from all over the country waiting anxiously outside the tomb to report the historic discovery. Thus, the tomb of King Muryeong was unearthed as soon as its occupant was identified, and the chamber was completely emptied by 8 a.m. the next day, July 9. Nobody had documented what had been found where, and in what condition. With neither a plan nor proper protocol, King Muryeong’s tomb was excavated in such haste that it could have been the work of grave robbers. Ever since, the project has been repeatedly criticized and bemoaned by 2
the Korean archaeological community. Nevertheless, the unfortunate manner of the excavation has not overshadowed its results. Of the 114 kings of the Three Kingdoms and the subsequent Unified Silla periods — 31 from Baekje, 27 from Goguryeo and 56 from Silla, which unified the three kingdoms — only King Muryeong has had his tomb identified by posterity.
Baekje’s History Salvaged from Obscurity In addition, discovery of his tomb brought Baekje’s history out of obscurity. Baekje had remained a dark corner in ancient Korean history due to a shortage of relevant literature, but the relics from the tomb provided solid evidence that shed light on the ancient kingdom’s history from diverse perspectives. Specifically the two stone slabs, engraved with the statement that the king and the queen had been buried in land purchased from the gods of heaven and earth, offered a glimpse of the solemn funeral customs observed by the people of Baekje. The tomb of King Muryeong and his wife yielded a splendid array of artifacts — over 3,000 items of about 100 kinds. It was evident that some of the articles had been imported from China. Moreover, the wooden coffins for the royal couple were made of Japanese umbrella pine, whose only natural habitat is known to be the Japanese archipelago. These observations demonstrate that Baekje carried out cultural and material exchange with neighboring nations by means of maritime trade, and that the royal family maintained close relations with Japan.
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SPECIAL FEATURE 4 Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
INCENSE BURNER EMBODIES IDEAL WORLD OF THE BAEKJE PEOPLE The Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje is striking for its size and beauty. At the Buyeo National Museum, visitors stop in front of it and fall into contemplation. The varied motifs, rendered with outstanding craftsmanship, stimulate viewers’ imagination and guide them to the ideal world of the Baekje people of 1,400 years ago. Kim Jeong-wan Archaeologist; Former Director, Daegu National Museum
dragon, one of its front paws scraping the air, supports a budding lotus blossom on its mouth. Above the blossom is an imaginary Taoist paradise with a series of jagged peaks, topped by a phoenix with widespread wings. The dragon base, the lotus-shaped bowl, and the phoenix-capped lid with molded layers of mountain ranges compose the elaborate structure of the incense burner. When the lid is closed, two identical bands decorated with a honeysuckle scroll design run in parallel where the lid and the bowl meet.
Incense Burning for the Soul of the Late King Baekje constructed a wall along the ridge of hills and mountains on the outskirts of Sabi (today’s Buyeo) during the 26 KOREANA Summer 2017
period of 538–660, when it was the kingdom’s capital. In Neungsan-ri, just outside the assumed site of the city’s east gate, is a cluster of tombs presumed to be occupied by Baekje’s kings and queens. The narrow strip of land between the city wall and the royal cemetery, with a marsh at the bottom and terraced rice fields at the top, was awakened from a long slumber in 1993, when preliminary surveys and excavations were conducted for the development of the Baekje cultural sphere. It was the site of a typical Baekje-style Buddhist temple with the remains of an inner gate, a wooden pagoda, a main hall, and a lecture hall arranged in a row from south to north, all surrounded by corridors. The Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje, the quintessence of the ancient kingdom’s art and craft, was discovered on the site of a workshop at the
back of the compound. It looked as if the workshop had been burned down, the front part covered with tiles from the collapsed roof. In the center of two out of the three rooms comprising the workshop, oval-shaped heaps of earth were found, scorched and hardened by the strong heat from metalworking furnaces. The incense burner was discovered in the middle room, at the bottom of a puddle in what is presumed to have been a water basin built with wood. With the lid slightly displaced from the body, the censer was covered with miscellaneous earthenware vessels, roof-tile fragments, small giltbronze articles, and other objects. It seemed that the incense burner had been hidden in the basin and covered with a pile of odds and ends in some kind of emergency, and then the entire building
1 The Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje, an exquisite artifact in the form of a dragon supporting a lotus blossom on its mouth, was unearthed in 1993 from a temple site adjacent to the ancient tombs in Neungsan-ri, Buyeo. Height: 61.8cm. Weight: 11.8kg. National Treasure No. 287. Buyeo National Museum. 2 A phoenix with widespread wings is perched on top of the lid. Smoke holes are pierced on either side of the bird’s breast.
© Buyeo National Museum
burned down later. Astonishingly, the vessel had remained completely intact, with no corrosion at all, for almost 1,400 years. Submerged about four meters below the current ground surface, it must have been blocked from oxygen and hardly influenced by external temperature changes. As the excavation continued, the history behind the construction of the temple was brought to light as the site of a wooden pagoda yielded the capital pillar and its foundation stone, as well as a stone sarira reliquary with an inscription about Baekje’s King Chang. The sarira casket with an arched top (National Treasure No. 288) is inscribed, on either side of its opening, with 20 characters in classical Chinese, meaning, “The sarira is a votive offering made in the 13th year of the reign of King Chang [also known as King Wideok; r. 554–598] by KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 27
In its construction, the ancient Baekje incense burner embodies Buddhist and Taoist ideals. The Buddhist connection is undeniable, given that it was a ceremonial vessel used in a royal temple during a period when Buddhism wielded strong influence. However, its association with the Taoist theory of yin, yang, and the five elements is also evident….
his sister, the princess.” The 27th ruler of Baekje, King Chang was the son of King Seong (r. 523–554), the monarch in the kingdom’s restoration period. When Baekje invaded Silla’s Gwansan Fortress in 554, King Seong went to the battlefield to save his son but was killed in an ambush. The historical facts, the location of the temple on the narrow marsh adjacent to the royal tombs outside the city wall, and the content of the inscription on the stone reliquary demonstrate that the temple was actually a royal shrine built in tribute to the late king, and that the incense burner was a ceremonial vessel used there.
Structure and Ornamentation The incense burner is cast in bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, and plated with gold using the amalgamation method. The irregular shape and the intricate surface must have been formed through the lost wax casting process. A full-sized model is 28 KOREANA Summer 2017
made out of a block of beeswax and placed in a sand mold, then heat is applied, which hardens the mold and melts out the wax. Molten metal is poured into the cavity left behind, and once it has solidified, the mold is broken off. A test of the burner’s metal components showed that the casting consists of 81.3 percent copper, 14.3 percent tin, and a small amount of impurities contained in the tin, such as lead, silver, nickel, cobalt, and arsenic. The interior of the burner is structured in such a way that the smoke from burning incense rises through the orb beneath the phoenix, up the passage between its two feet, and out of the small holes on either side of the bird’s breast. The magic bead (cintamani) under its chin is not only visually pleasing but also reinforces the structure. Incense smoke is also let out through 10 other holes placed at even intervals on the lid where the jagged peaks are carved. Unlike the two holes on the bird’s breast,
however, these holes are quite rough around the edges. It is presumed that they were smaller and smoother at first but were later enlarged by hand to allow the smoke to disperse more freely. On the lid of the censer, figures of humans, animals, and plants are carved in relief between the small and large peaks of overlapping mountains. Up close, one figure can be seen sitting up straight on a rock in meditation, another strolling through the wood, one is shooting an arrow backwards on horseback, one is washing his hair near a waterfall, one is walking with a cane while another bows in farewell, one is angling on a rock by the lake, and yet others are riding an elephant, a horse, and so on. Some of the animal figures are real, like the bear, tiger, bird, deer, snake, and boar, but others are imaginary. There are also rocks, trees, streams, waterfalls, and lakes carved among the mountain peaks. The main body of the incense burner is decorated with three tiers of lotus pet-
Five musicians playing different instruments are placed between the overlapping mountain peaks on the upper part of the lid.
als and various aquatic creatures between them, such as fish, waterfowl, birds, or other animals eating fish, presumably depicting the Taoist paradise under water. Connecting the bowl-shaped body and the dragon base is a rod in the dragon’s mouth, which connects to the pipe protruding from the bottom of the bowl. An X-ray image of its cross section revealed that the bowl, the pipe, and the dragon holding the rod in its mouth were cast separately and joined together. The phoenix atop the lid and the bead under its chin were also cast separately and then joined onto the lid. The base has an ingenious structure, with the molded dragon figure raising one leg up in the air and pressing the other three legs down on the ground. The three points of contact with the ground form a regular triangle, making the burner structurally stable. The space between the dragon’s legs and body is filled with a design of waves, clouds, and lotus blossoms, further enhancing its stability and adding to the dynamic impression of a dragon soaring up to heaven from a splendid sea of lotus flowers. Study continues on the iconography of these various symbols. Many scholars assume that the assortment of animals represents a mythical world imagined by ancient East Asian people, possibly related
to the creatures described in the “Classic of Mountains and Seas" (Shanhai jing), the Chinese book of mythology and geography dating back to the fourth century B.C. Another prevailing view is that the phoenix and the five birds that look like wild geese, each perched on a different peak, reflect ancient Chinese cosmology, represented by the Heavenly Ruler and the Five Emperors, which was widely upheld throughout East Asia.
Ideological Background In its construction, the ancient Baekje incense burner embodies Buddhist and Taoist ideals. The Buddhist connection is undeniable, given that it was a ceremonial vessel used in a royal temple during a period when Buddhism wielded strong influence. However, its association with the Taoist theory of yin, yang, and the five elements is also evident…. the arrangement of the phoenix (yang) at the top and the dragon (yin) at the base, as well as the five birds, the five musicians, and the five layers of mountains with the five major peaks in each layer. In addition, the iconography of the lid with the depiction of Mt. Bo (Boshan, or the Universal Mountain), the abode of immortals in the middle of the sea mentioned in a Chinese legend, also points to the influence of Taoism. These features
demonstrate that the royal family and the aristocracy of the Buddhist kingdom embraced Taoism as well. Some of the major features of the vessel — the dragon-shaped base, the lid decorated with a series of mountain ranges, and the phoenix atop the lid, among others — are obviously connected with the tradition of the hill censer (boshanlu ) from the Chinese Han Dynasty. Notably, Chinese bronze hill censers, also found among the relics of Lelang (108 B.C.–A.D. 313), a Han commandery in the northern part of the Korean peninsula, started to appear in the early Western Han period (206 B.C.–A.D. 9) and declined in popularity in the Sui (581– 618) and Tang (618–907) eras. The difference in time as well as the greater size and more elaborate construction of the Baekje incense burner renders a direct connection with Chinese tradition unlikely. Even so, the iconography is not unique to Baekje as some of the motifs are also found in the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” mentioned earlier as well as in the murals of the Yungang Grottoes, the Chinese heritage site from the Northern Wei Dynasty dated to the fifth and sixth centuries. For this reason, the iconography found on the Baekje incense burner is considered to have been widely known in contemporary East Asia.
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SPECIAL FEATURE 5 Baekje: In Search of Traces of the Lost Kingdom
BAEKJE SETTLERS IN JAPAN Baekje accepted the advanced culture and technology of China, and went on to adapt and assimilate the foreign cultural elements to develop a unique culture of its own that was then disseminated to neighboring states. It maintained amicable relations with Japan, transmitting continental civilization and technology in exchange for military assistance. Traces of close interaction between the two countries still remain in many parts of Japan. Ha Jong-moon Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, Hanshin University Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
1 Kudara Kannon, or the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from Baekje, enshrined in the Treasure House of Horyu-ji, in Nara, is one of Japanâ€™s most renowned cultural treasures. The graceful image, made of gilded camphor wood, stands 209cm tall. Baekje craftsmanship clearly shows in the unique mandorla, the openwork crown, the smooth curves of the shoulders and waist, and the tender expression on the face. It is dated to the early to mid-seventh century. 2 Kudarao-jinja, the clan shrine of the royal family of Baekje, still stands in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture. In the eighth century, the descendants of the last king of Baekje who settled in southern Osaka also built Kudara-ji, a large temple where spirit tablets of Baekje kings were enshrined, but the temple was destroyed in a fire. The current shrine was rebuilt in 2002. ÂŠ SHOGAKUKAN
n the fourth day of the tenth month of A.D. 663, the final battle that would determine the fate of the seven-centuryold Baekje Kingdom was about to be waged in the lower reaches of the Geum River. The kingdom’s capital, Sabi (presentday Buyeo), had already fallen into enemy hands and King Uija surrendered in 660, but last-ditch skirmishes were ongoing in various parts of the country. Baekje restoration forces requested their ally Japan (called “Wa” at the time) to send reinforcements, to which Japan responded by dispatching a contingent of over 40,000 soldiers in two phases. The Baekje-Wa troops and the allied forces of Silla and Tang China engaged in fierce naval and ground battles over two days in what was tantamount to a major regional conflict in ancient East Asia. Victory went to the Silla-Tang alliance. Although the most culturally advanced and diplomatically savvy among the three kingdoms of Korea, Baekje was unable to avert its tragic end. In some ways, the Japanese reinforcements were a testimony to its strong international character. Even after Baekje’s fall, close relations with Japan continued. According to the “New Selection and Record of Hereditary Titles and Family Names” (Shinsen shojiroku), a genealogical record of aris-
tocratic families of Japan commissioned by the emperor and completed in 815, one third of the nobility were found to be immigrants, mostly of Baekje ancestry. Ancient Japan developed its culture and laid its foundations as a nation largely through exchanges with Baekje. Even into the early ninth century, descendants of Baekje immigrants comprised a significant portion of Japan’s ruling class.
Three Mass Migrations There were three major influxes of Baekje immigrants to Japan. The first came after the mid-fourth century when, amid frequent clashes with Goguryeo in the north, Baekje actively sought ties with Japan to strengthen its defenses. Around this time, Baekje dispatched two scholars to Japan. The first was Ajikgi (Achiki in Japanese), who took with him two horses. He initially taught horsemanship, but when it became known that he was well versed in the Confucian classics, he became tutor to the crown prince. The second scholar was Dr. Wangin (Wani in Japanese), who was called to Japan upon the recommendation of Ajikgi and is known to have introduced the “Thousand Character Classic” and the “Analects of Confucius” to Japan. His descendants served in the royal court for many generations in positions responsible for documentation, KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 31
accounts, and finance. After Wiryeseong, the first capital of Baekje later known as Hanseong, fell to Goguryeo in 475, Baekje moved its capital further south to Ungjin (present-day Gongju), which prompted the second mass migration to Japan. Under the threat of aggression from Goguryeo, Baekje sought to strengthen its alliance with Japan; in return for Japan’s military assistance, it dispatched large numbers of professionals with advanced cultural knowledge and technological expertise. Exchange with Japan flourished under the reign of the kings Muryeong (r. 501–523) and Seong (r. 523–554). During this period, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, Baekje sent Buddhist architects and artisans as well as technicians and specialists equipped with new skills and knowledge. They played an active role in building the foundations of a centralized government from a confederation of powerful local clans, and the blossoming of Buddhist culture during the Asuka period (circa 538–710). The mother of Emperor Kanmu (r. 781–806), who relocated the capital to Heiankyo (present-day Kyoto) from Nara at the end of the eighth century, ushering in the Heian period (794–1185), was known to have been a descendant of King Muryeong of Baekje. This became widely known when Emperor Akihito mentioned it in public in 2001. After the fall of Baekje, members of the royal family and ruling class crossed the sea to Japan en masse and settled there. Accord-
ing to an account dated 663 from the “Chronicles of Japan” (Nihon shoki ), as they boarded the boat for Japan they cried out, “The name Baekje has perished today. Will we ever be able to visit our ancestors’ tombs again?” Based on historical records, their number was estimated to have exceeded 3,000, including some 60 highranking government officials. They took key government positions during Japan’s transition to a centralized power structure in the late seventh century.
Baekje Buddhism and Asuka Culture Buddhism was introduced to the Three Kingdoms of Korea much earlier than to Japan through scriptures translated into Chinese characters. In all of the three ancient states, Buddhism served as an impetus for political unity, consolidation of royal authority, and cultural advancement. The same was true for Japan. History books from China’s Sui Dynasty (581–618) state that writing was introduced to Japan through Buddhist scriptures from Baekje. In the mid-sixth century, King Seong sent a Buddhist statue and sutras to Japan for the first time, and thereafter continued to supply the necessary human resources until Buddhism took root there. Buddhist monks as well as architects and artists were dispatched to participate in the construction of Asuka-dera, also known as Hoko-ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. It is said that when the
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temple was completed, some 100 courtiers rejoiced wearing Baekje attire. Early Buddhism in Japan built a strong foothold around Asuka through close interaction with Baekje. Baekje used the Chinese written language and Buddhism in its diplomacy with Japan. It also acted as a cultural conduit between China and Japan. One example is a U-shaped metal ornamental hair pin. It is believed that this type of hair pin, which has been found in tombs in China from the third century onwards, was brought into Japan by way of Baekje. This is supported by the fact that such hair pins have been frequently discovered among burial goods in Baekje-style tombs located in the Kansai region (or the Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe region). It is interesting that Baekje immigrants even introduced to Japan the latest fashion items in vogue at that time in East Asia.
Twin Buddhist Statues The Baekje Kingdom vanished when the restoration campaigns were crushed. But its cultural legacy was revived in Japan. The temple complex of Todai-ji in Nara, which bears traces of Baekje influence, is a treasure trove of Buddhist culture which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The statue of the Great Buddha, a national treasure housed in the temple, is known to have been built by the grandson of a Baekje immigrant who fled to Japan
after the kingdom’s fall. The descendants of Baekje’s royal family developed a gold mine and donated gold for the statue. The essence of the Buddhist culture that Baekje had fostered continued to live on in Japan. Among the Baekje immigrant settlers, there were two powerful clans. One was the Aya clan, who settled in Kinai (the capital region) near the Osaka and Nara prefectures. Most of them were craftsmen, such as blacksmiths, or involved in production of horse gear, silk fabrics, and earthenware. The other prominent immigrant clan was the Hata clan. They settled in the Kyoto prefecture and surrounding areas, and were engaged in such fields as sericulture, textiles, and water control. Descendants of the Hata divided into various clans with different surnames. Tsutomu Hata, who became the 80th prime minister of Japan in 1994, is a descendant of the clan. Koryu-ji, constructed in 603 in northern Kyoto, originally belonged to the Hata family. It houses six Buddhist statues designated as national treasures. The most outstanding among them is the wooden statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva, or Maitreya in Meditation. The image of the bodhisattva in deep contemplation of the suffering of humans has captivated numerous people over the centuries. German philosopher Karl Jaspers praised it as “a full representation of the highest expression of human nature.” An almost identical twin statue, the Gilt-bronze Pensive Bodhisattva (Korea’s National Treasure No. 83), is housed in the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. The two statues bear a striking resemblance, especially their smiles. Neither of the sculptors has been identified, and controversy is ongoing as to whether they were from Baekje or Silla. But whatever the place of origin, what the enigmatic smile of the two bodhisattvas is conveying is a message of salvation of all human beings — beyond Baekje, Silla, or Japan.
The Legacy of the Ancient Kingdom The vestiges of Baekje in Japan are scattered throughout the Kansai region. The tour exploring the remains of the ancient Korean kingdom begins as we exit Kansai
1 The alleged tomb of Dr. Wangin, or Wani as he is known in Japan, in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture. An eminent scholar assumed to have arrived from Baekje in the mid-fourth century, Wangin is attributed with the introduction of the Chinese writing system to Japan. His descendants are said to have served in various areas of civil administration in Japan. 2 The Kudara Bridge in Higashisumiyoshi-ku, southern Osaka, speaks for historic relations between the region and the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje, which date back to the seventh century. The name Kudara, or Baekje, can be easily found in the names of stations, bridges, and schools around the area that continues to have a large Korean-Japanese population today.
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The Baekje Kingdom vanished when the restoration campaigns were crushed. But its cultural legacy was revived in Japan. The essence of the Buddhist culture that Baekje had fostered continued to live on in Japan. International Airport, the gateway to western Japan. The first stop is Osaka, Japan’s second largest city. Prince Seongwang, the son of Baekje’s last king, spent the rest of his life in Japan after the kingdom’s collapse. He was given the family name of Kudara no Konikishi (meaning “king of Baekje”) by the emperor. Together with other descendants of the royal family, he settled in Baekje County in southern Osaka where immigrant clans were living. This area corresponds to today’s Ikuno-ku and still has a large Korean-Japanese population. One can easily spot stations, bridges, and elementary schools with Baekje in their names. It was during the great-grandson Keifuku’s generation that the Kudara clan moved to Hirakata in the northern Osaka Prefecture. Keifuku, or Gyeongbok in Korean, donated gold for the construction of the Great Buddha statue housed in Todai-ji in Nara. He also built Kudara-ji, a large temple for the clan, but it was destroyed in a fire and a park now stands in its place. Still standing is the clan shrine Kudarao-jinja, which was built around the same time near the temple and has since been reconstructed. The next place on the itinerary is Nara. Asuka, a village located further south, is home to the temple Asuka-dera, but it is hard to find traces of the Baekje people there as their temples were also moved to Nara after the relocation of the capital. Our first stop is the temple Gango-ji. It was once one of the powerful seven great temples of Nara together with Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji, but declined after the Middle Ages. However, the roof tiles of the main hall, a national treasure, are worth a close look as tiles from the Asuka period made by Baekje artisans still remain.
After Gango-ji comes Todai-ji, which is not far off, and then Horyu-ji. The large temple grounds of Horyu-ji are filled with numerous national treasures, but the one that exudes the aura of Baekje is the Kudara Kannon (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from Baekje). Standing over two meters tall, the wooden statue is a sculptural masterpiece exemplifying the beauty of the human body, which has long been a source of artistic inspiration. In 1997, the statue was displayed at the Louvre Museum as part of an exchange of representative national treasures between France and Japan. Next, we board the train for Kyoto and head north. They say you can’t visit Kyoto without seeing Kiyomizu-dera, another temple connected with Baekje. Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, a general and shogun who conquered the Tohoku region during the reign of Emperor Kanmu, is the one who initiated the construction of the temple. The main hall, a national treasure, was originally his house that was rebuilt. The Sakanoue clan is known to have diverged from the Aya clan. During the era when the emperor’s maternal relatives were descendants of the Baekje royal family, members of the clan held key positions in the military and played an important role in opening the Heian period, pioneering a new future for Japan. Last is a walk around Kyoto city in a counterclockwise direction, headed for the temple Koryu-ji. Here, many ancient Buddhist statutes, including the wooden statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva, await us. We admire the acme of Buddhist culture and take a moment to ruminate on the anguish of the displaced Baekje immigrants who had lost their country.
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Clues for Future Relations With the end of the alliance between Baekje and Japan, all ties connecting the ancient Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago were severed, casting a dark shadow over Korea-Japan relations ever since. At the end of the 16th century, Japan invaded Joseon, causing mass casualties and extensive material damage; in 1910, Japan annexed the Korean Empire. The deep wounds inflicted during the 35 years of occupation have never completely healed. How might relations between Korea and Japan pan out in the future? The answer may be more easily found if the two nations recall the open and friendly relations and cosmopolitan outlook of their ancestors of 1,500 years ago.
1 The main hall (right) and the zen room of Gango-ji, in Nara. Many of the roof tiles of these buildings, distinguished by brownish tones, were made by Baekje artisans during the Asuka period. The temple was originally founded in Asuka in 593 and was known as Asuka-dera or Hoko-ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. It was moved to Nara in 718, when the capital was relocated there, and renamed Gangoji. 2 The five-story pagoda at Horyu-ji, in Nara, is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. It was built when the temple was reconstructed in the early eighth century after the first Horyu-ji, completed in 607, was burned down in 670. The pagoda reflects the seventh-century Baekje style. It is 32.5 meters tall.
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HANGEUL, ITS CREATION AND FUTURE AS A DESIGN THEME A special exhibition at the National Hangeul Museum shed light on the current status of Hangeul as a fast-changing script and its future as the alphabet of a unified Korea. “Hangeul Design: Prototypes and Future of the Korean Alphabet,” held from February 28 to May 28, 2017, offered visitors a chance to look back at the birth of Korea’s unique writing system and into its future through the works of young design artists. Chung Jae-suk Senior Culture Reporter, The JoongAng Ilbo Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
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Transparent acrylic sheets stand in the dimly-lit entrance to the special exhibition “Hangeul Design: Prototypes and Future of the Korean Alphabet” at the National Hangeul Museum, showing all 33 pages of “Hunminjeongeum Haerye ,” a commentary explaining the principles of the new Korean writing system published in 1446 when the script was promulgated.
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n 1443, King Sejong, the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, completed the invention of a new Korean writing system called Hunminjeongeum, the original name of Hangeul. It was the fruition of painstaking efforts by a wise monarch who had tried to solve social inequality and challenges in state administration. Most people had difficulties expressing themselves freely because the nation had been relying on Chinese characters or an archaic writing system called Idu, a combination of Chinese characters and grammatical markers used by the learned elite. In 1446, after three years of extensive research and experiments, Sejong published “Hunminjeongeum Haerye,” a book explaining the phonological features of the letters and examples of their usage. In his preface, the king said: “Despite their desire to communicate, many of our poor people cannot express themselves in words freely. Taking pity on them, we have created a new set of 28 letters. My only wish is that all the people may learn these letters with ease and use them conveniently in their everyday lives.” As I stepped into the dimly-lit exhibition hall, I felt as if I was hearing the voice of the great king.
Creation of a New Writing System Since its opening on Hangeul Day on October 9, 2014, the National Hangeul Museum has devoted itself to promoting the history and value of Hangeul through special exhibitions and other events. The museum focused on the originality and usefulness of Korea’s unique writing system, which is all too easily forgotten as people use it in their everyday lives like breathing air or drinking water. At the entrance of the exhibition, which marked the 620th anniversary of the birth of King Sejong (1397–1450; r. 1418–1450), an installation of the 33 pages of “Hunminjeongeum Haerye ” made visitors feel as if they were entering a time machine taking them back to the days when Sejong invented the new writing system for his people. The display seemed to reverberate with the joy the king must have felt as he proclaimed the creation of the new alphabet after the nation had relied on
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© National Hangeul Museum
Chinese characters for a long time, making his lofty sprit of self-reliance and pragmatism as well as his love for his people palpable. The scholar-officials who helped the king invent the new letters must have felt deeply excited, too. In another preface to the book, written by Jeong In-ji (1396–1487), one of the royal retainers who participated in the hefty task overcoming many difficulties, expresses his joyful pride by saying: “A quick-witted person can learn it before the morning is over, and even a slow-witted person can learn it in just ten days.”
The Only Alphabet with Invention Records Experts from around the world have expressed their views on the significant value of Hangeul as “the world’s youngest and most scientific alphabet.” Robert Ramsey, a professor of East Asian linguistics at the University of Maryland, in the United States, said, “Hangeul is Korea’s gift to the world. While Hangeul is a symbol of Korean culture of the highest order, it has a significance that transcends any one country.” Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, a French novelist and 2008 Nobel laureate in literature, noted, “One day is enough to master reading in Korean. Hangeul is a very scientific and convenient alphabet system for communication.” John Man, a British history writer and author of “Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World,” has commented, “Hangeul is the best alphabet that all the languages have dreamed of." Furthermore, it is the only writing system whose invention records are still preserved. Hunminjeongeum literally means “proper sounds to instruct the people.” The script originally consisted of 28 letters, 17 consonants and 11 vowels, based on the basic forms of dots, lines, and circles. Its composition is featured in Part 1 of the exhibition, titled “Easily Learned and Conveniently Used: Letters of Consideration and Communication.” The 17 consonants were derived from five basic phonemic symbols resembling the shapes of the concerned vocal organs. Then, another stroke was added to the basic phonemic symbols, depending upon the sound intensity. For example, with the addition of another stroke, “ㄴ” (ni-eun) becomes “ㄷ” (di-geut), whose sound is more intense than “ㄴ.” With still another stroke, “ㄷ” becomes “ㅌ” (ti-eut) whose sound is even more intense than “ㄷ.” The characteristics of each sound are reflected in each letter. Starting from three basic symbols — “•,” “ㅡ,” and “ㅣ,” representing heaven, earth, and man, respectively — 11 vowels were developed. Joined together, the 17 consonants and 11 vowels can create over 10,000 syllabic blocks, thus allowing for an almost unlimited number
1 “톱” (Top ; “Saw”) by Chae Byung-rok portrays the meaning of the word “톱” by dissecting it into three parts — “ㅌ,” “ㅗ” and “ㅂ” — corresponding to the initial, medial and final sounds. 2 “장석장” (Jangseokjang ; “Ornamental Furniture”) by Ha Jee-hoon is a piece of wooden furniture decorated with metal ornaments in the shape of Hangeul consonants and vowels, in similar fashion to the traditional wooden furniture of the Joseon Dynasty. 3 “버들” (Beodeul ; “Willow”) by Yu Myung-sang experiments to see to what extent letters can be melted into imagery by using various images of willow leaves.
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These design teams infused new life into the prototypes of Hunminjeongeum, building two- and three-dimensional structures in a fascinating attempt to test the limits of Hangeul as a theme for artistic inspiration.
1 “감” (Gam ; “Persimmon/Feeling/Fabric”) by Jang Soo-young attempts to revive the original style of Hangeul by placing different tonal markings, an important element in the Korean writing system in its early days, beside three identical syllables carved in relief on separate wooden panels to distinguish among their different meanings. 2 A visitor looks at various Hangeul word-image combinations.
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of combinations. Hangeul is a unique syllabic writing system composed of initial, medial, and final sounds. To quote Jeong In-ji’s preface, “With these 28 letters, the alterations are limitless.”
Rebirth as a Design Theme Under the title “Limitlessly Altered: Expandability of Hangeul Reinterpreted Through Design,” the second part of the exhibition showcased these innumerable alterations through 30 works presented by 23 design teams. These teams infused new life into the prototypes of Hunminjeongeum, building two- and threedimensional structures in a fascinating attempt to test the limits of Hangeul as a theme for artistic inspiration. Their artworks represent a meaningful start. It seems clear now why Chung Byung-kyu, a book and typeface designer, asserts, “Let’s go back to Hunminjeongeum!” As Chung argues, “Exploring the new potential of Hangeul is our best tool in breaking away from Western influence, which has long dwelt in our subconscious as the basis of thinking." “힘, 믈” (Power, Group), by Kang Goo-ryong, expresses the energies of different sounds. His work gives shape to the meanings and images of letters by using the vertical structure of “힘” (him) and
the horizontal framework of “믈” (meul). It is intriguing to see that the shapes of Hangeul letters do indeed have their own distinct meanings and personalities. Through his work “버들” (Willow), Yu Myung-sang experiments with the extent to which letters can be melted into imagery by using different images of willow leaves. His work attempts to overcome the limits of letters that do not easily blend into image-centered designs. “감” (Persimmon/Feeling/Fabric), by Jang Soo-young, attempts to revive the style of the original Korean script at the time of its creation by using the extinct system of tonal markers. The syllable “감” is carved in relief on three wooden panels with tonal markers to distinguish their different connotations, with graphs showing different pronunciations of the word produced by a sound analyzer reflected in the carvings. The woodwork series “장석장” (Ornamental Furniture), by Ha Jee-hoon, and “거단곡목가구 훈민정음” (Hunminjeongeum on Kerf-bent Wooden Furniture), by Hwang Hyung-shin, both applying the artistic features of Hangeul to everyday life, attracted a lot of attention from visitors. Ha decorated the surface of furniture pieces with Hangeul consonants and vowels, reminiscent of the Joseon
period’s simple wooden furniture embellished with metal ornaments. Hwang produced wooden stools, benches, and chairs borrowing the shapes of Hangeul strokes and dots. In different combinations, these pieces can create various letters. This exhibition first opened in October 2016 at the Korean Culture Center in Tokyo. Curators at the National Hangeul Museum had worked for over seven months with the 23 teams of young designers to prepare the exhibition. Carrying out projects of this magnitude on a continual basis would help to assert the raison d’etre of the National Hangeul Museum as a separate institution, although it is currently located in the vast compound of the National Museum of Korea. Aside from that, such projects could have an impact on society as a whole, beyond art and culture.
Another Noteworthy Exhibition Despite being Korea’s pride nowadays, Hangeul has undergone many hardships over the past centuries. Just think of Korean people’s arduous struggle to protect their language and writing system against Japan’s ethnic and cultural assimilation policy during the colonial period (1910–1945), which is considered a significant part of their independence movement. In 1940, after a great deal of effort, Chun Hyung-pil (1906–1962), a leading collector of Korean cultural treasures, famously spent a fortune to secretly buy the original copy of “Hunminjeongeum Haerye .” He protected the invaluable document at all costs until Korea’s liberation. He said at the time, “I could harden my conviction that our nation would regain independence, thinking about the future of Hunminjeongeum.” An exhibition featuring the original copy of “Hunminjeong eum Haerye ” is being held at the Design Museum at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul from April 13 to October 12, under the title “Hunminjeongeum and Nanjung Ilgi: Look, Again.” It is a rare opportunity for visitors to see the original copies of the two classics, both national treasures of Korea that have been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. “Nanjung Ilgi ” is the war diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, who led many hard-fought battles to repel the Japanese during the Hideyoshi invasions from 1592 to 1598. Just as many Koreans saw the light of national liberation in the Hunminjeongeum, one can argue that Hangeul has been underpinning their national identity throughout the past 70 years of territorial division. In the South, May 15 was designated as Teachers’ Day in 1965 to commemorate King Sejong’s birthday. Back in 1926, while the nation was under Japanese rule, October 9 was designated a national holiday marking the anniversary of the proclamation of the Korean script, under the initiative of nationalist scholars of Hangeul. Just as the nation gained courage from Hangeul to overcome the ordeals of the past century, it is once again time to look back at the script’s creation to garner the national strength necessary to tide over the challenges of the 21st century.
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CHARISMATIC MUSIC DIRECTOR ATTUNED TO MUSICALS When the lights go down, just before the show begins, she appears in the spotlight and greets the audience. She raises her head from the orchestra pit under the stage, turns around, and smiles. During the whole performance, she shows only the back of her head, but with her baton she has the audience in the palm of her hands. At a time when the Korean musical market is enjoying a boom, I met music director Kim Moonjung, probably its busiest person around these days. Won Jong-won Musical Critic; Professor of Journalism and Communication, Soonchunhyang University Son Cho-won Photographer
Musical Director Kim Moon-jung says, â€œMy stamina comes from the thrilling moments I experience with an actor or actress who is on the same wavelength.â€?
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he musical industry in Korea has recorded tremendous growth in recent years. Since “The Phantom of the Opera” was staged in Korean in 2001, ticket sales have increased 17–18 percent every year. The notion of the “starving artist” is now forgotten, at least in the musical market. The number of musicals staged for adult audiences in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province reaches 160 per year. This alone puts Korea’s musical market among the five biggest in the world. A leading figure in this musical big bang, Kim Moon-jung has been music director for numerous successful licensed productions, such as “Mamma Mia!,” “Elizabeth,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Mozart,” “Evita,” “Les Misérables,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Rebecca,” as well as the original Korean musical “The Last Empress.”
A Child who Loved Songs and Plays Won Jong-won You’re very busy as usual, aren’t you? Or are you perhaps less busy, as you’re doing mostly encore shows this year? Kim Moon-jung With one show after another, TV appearances, and teaching at university, I’ve had a busy schedule, but I'm a bit more relaxed these days. It gives me a boost to think that so many people love our productions. A show is meaningless without an audience. Won Music director of musicals is not a common profession. How did you choose this work? Kim Thinking back now, my childhood environment played a significant role. I played with my cousins all the time, and on my grandmother’s birthday we created plays with songs and performed them in front of the family. On those occasions, I always played the piano accompaniment. Songs and plays were something very special to me. Not many people knew about musicals in those days. Now one of my cousins is a commercial music composer who also works as a music director for TV dramas, and another cousin is a musical critic. It makes you realize the importance of the home environment in a child’s education. Won When did you see your first musical? Kim In the eighth grade. “Guys and Dolls” was very popular at the time. We went to see it as a school excursion. It was a comedy and I remember enjoying it very much. Won That was the mid-1980s, and private theatrical companies were competing to stage various adopted musicals. Kim Now that I think about it, the music for the musicals wasn’t performed live as it is today. Won You studied applied music at university, didn’t you? Kim That’s right. After graduation, I worked as a keyboard session player, and in 1992, I happened to play piano for “A Chorus Line.” It didn’t pay much, but I was enthralled with the freedom of the stage, compared to the stereotypical work I had done for advertisements. I found the songs attractive because, being much longer than 4–5 minute pop songs, they had plenty of room for expression of various emotions. That’s why I started working on musicals whenever the chance came. Then in 1997, I joined the production team of “The Last Empress” and began to work mainly on musicals. I was chosen by Kolleen Park, the music director, and really enjoyed working with her. Later, Yun Ho-jin, CEO of A-Com, the production company, and director of “The Last Empress,” named me music director. His acknowledgment meant a lot to me and it’s a connection that I value. Memory of the First LA Performance “The Last Empress” marked the birth of Korea’s musical industry. The musical depicts the tragic death of the wife of King Gojong in the late 19th century when the Joseon Dynasty was nearing its end amid Japanese imperial aggression. It has been a hit every time it was staged thanks to the epic spectacles based on the traditional Korean aesthetic and expression of sentiment highlighted by lyrical songs and fantastic stage art and costumes. As its music director, Kim Moon-jung earned acclaim both domestically and in America and England. Won What’s your most memorable experience as a music director? Kim I still vividly remember the performance of “The Last Empress” in Los Angeles in 2003. I was put in charge of the big orchestra simply because I knew the piece better than others. In America, there KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 43
“I want more people to appreciate our original musicals. I even dream of musicals sparking a new hallyu [Korean Wave]. I think we can make it happen, if we keep working hard at it.” are musicians’ unions, so local musicians have to be hired for performances. I still feel nervous when I recall that time. This might sound strange, but I decided not to speak English. If I spoke poor English, I thought I would lose my charisma as music director and be unable to control the musicians. So I used an interpreter. That’s how nervous I was. Some musicians were amenable from the beginning but with others the tension remained till the end. When the show was over, however, the musicians all stood up and clapped. It was a great moment that made me feel proud. Won Is there any show that left you feeling unsatisfied? Kim “Organ in My Heart” is an original Korean musical for which I composed the music. I was proud of the work, and it received many awards but was not a success in ticket sales. I would like to put it on stage again some time, but I’m not sure if that’s possible. I still dream of it. Won You received the composition award at the Korea Musical Awards for that work. But since then, you have focused much more on working as a music director. Kim I still compose pieces. I have this idea of creating a musical using Korean trot music [a genre of Korean pop music dating back to the early 1900s]. Won Is box office success important to you? Kim A musical grows from the soil of popular culture. Once the audience turns away from a show, it’s hard to stage it again, partly because the production costs are so high.
Scene from a rehearsal for the musical “Les Misérables.” Music director Kim Moon-jung (far right) talks with the orchestra members.
Judge on a TV Audition Program Won The recent audition show “Phantom Singer” on cable channel JTBC was a big success. It adopted the format of audition shows that are popular around the world, and featured many contestants with outstanding abilities. You were also very charismatic as a judge. Kim Musicals have become very popular, with more works staged and more actors and actresses working in this field, so I was glad to appear on the show. I was pleased that it was so popular. My life hasn’t changed much because of the show, but these days, people recognize me on the street and I greet them happily. Though I was a judge, I thought that as a music director, I could help the participants to grow. I was touched by those who did in fact grow during the show. Some of them I’d like to work with in the future. Won Who was the candidate you felt the most sorry for? Kim It was Lee Jun-hwan, a middle school student. He was very good, but because the final purpose was to make an operatic pop group of four, we had to give him up halfway. We all felt © Shim Kyu-tai
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sorry to let him go. Won Are you going to participate next season? Kim I’ve received an offer. I was with the show from the beginning, and the process of discovering new talent was rewarding, so yes, I’ll probably join the next season.
Envisioning a Bright Future for Korean Musicals Won What are you working on now? Kim I get a lot of offers, but I’m more interested in doing original Korean musicals than foreign works. I’m working on new musical versions of “Sandglass,” a beloved television drama from the ‘90s, and “Gwanghwamun Love Song,” which features songs by the late composer Lee Yeong-hoon. Popular musicals such as “Sopyonje,” “Rebecca,” “Rudolf,” and “Mata Hari” are also scheduled for encore performances. Won You have an aspiration to work as music director of performances overseas, don’t you? Kim I have a strong desire to mount original Korean musicals on international stages. Anyone in the Korean musical industry would probably feel the same way. I want to show the global audience how much Korean musicals have grown and how much they are loved. Of course, there are many foreign musical fans in Korea and some visit Korea expressly to see musicals, but I want more people to appreciate our original musicals. I even dream of musicals sparking a new hallyu [Korean Wave]. I think we can make it happen, if we keep working hard at it.” While musicals in the West were influenced by popular theater around 1900 — for example, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and burlesque — and established as a genre of family entertainment, the Korean musical is rooted in the styles of traditional performing arts, such as folk songs, mask dances (talchum ), shamanic rites (gut ), pansori narrative songs, and akgeuk , the Korean musical theater comparable to Western operettas. This background distinguishes Korean musicals from their Western counterparts on Broadway and the West End, and it is their uniqueness that attracts overseas audiences. Kim Moon-jung has greatly contributed to upgrading the performance of many licensed musicals from other countries, and perhaps it’s natural that she has such a strong love for original Korean productions. The future of Korean musicals, as Kim dreams of it, is very bright indeed. That’s what makes us cheer on her aspirations and work as an artist, and eagerly await her next production.
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GUARDIAN OF HERITAGE
‘THINKING HANDS’ OF
Kang Shin-jae Freelance Writer Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
LEE HYUN-BAE, MASTER ONGGI ARTISAN In traditional arts and crafts, artisans of the past learned their craft through apprenticeship and spoke of their art only through their handiwork. Lee Hyun-bae, however, is a new-generation artisan. The master potter learned onggi pottery (traditional Korean earthenware) through words and writings; he thinks deeply about each procedure of his work, concerning himself with modern applications of traditional culture. 1
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istening to Lee Hyun-bae talk was like reading a written text. Whenever he paused groping for the next words, thoughts would rise, gather, or scatter in my head. I felt that way listening to his story about a time when he had been working at a pottery store for five months. He said he had felt “a sudden burst of energy” on looking at a shard of a broken pot. At the time, he had never baked a vessel, but was just trying to seize an opportunity to develop an eye for quality while working as a clerk. Calling it an “eyeopening moment,” he added, “Pondering later why I had felt such energy, I remembered that the shard’s cross section was in the shape of a sperm. The fragment was broken off from a pot’s mouth, so the cross section of the rounded rim, called jeon, looked like a sperm’s head and the remaining part its tail. Just as a sperm’s head carries all the genetic information, an onggi pot also has its information in the round rim.” It was a story tuned to the theme of onggi ware and vitality, a story as articulate as his pottery skills, although I must say I was not fully convinced yet. However, it was just a small portion of the narrative he was building up, which at times took unexpected turns to make a point in a broader context. When talking about pottery wheels, for example, he went on to discuss certain details, such as his line of vision: “With the wheel in front, I sit on the mat with the sun to my right. I lean to that direction, pushing the treadle with my left foot, turning the wheel counterclockwise, and looking at the right side of the pot, its outer surface.” The master artisan’s remarks, covering diverse topics with earnestness, offered a glimpse of his wisdom ripened by time. Not a word was uttered without thought. It was as if he had sorted out all the strands constituting his idea of onggi pottery, assigning meaning to every one of them. It seemed as though he had reinterpreted the 26 years of his life as a potter entirely through the prism of his craft, and found a way to express it in clear language. His words reflected the broad scope of his thinking. And yet, there was a hint of desperation in the way he built up the narrative — a desperate struggle to bring onggi pottery, submerged
1 The master onggi artisan Lee Hyun-bae shapes the rim of a large jar on his wheel at his workshop in Jinan, North Jeolla Province. 2 Lee and his wife work together arranging his well-dried onggi jars and lids inside the kiln for firing.
in the obscurity of tradition, up to the surface of today’s life, and to define his contemporary role as a potter. Driven by such a strong sense of mission, he looked robust like a solid piece of onggi ware, the clay structure that withstands heat exceeding 1,000ºC without buckling.
A Chance Encounter in His Wandering Days “In my childhood, I was nicknamed Golbae, meaning an emptyheaded boy. People kept telling me to think before acting,” said Lee with a big laugh, his face all creased up. It was a laugh wrapped around the recollection of an embarrassing past. “I always wished to be somewhere else, but I would wake up every morning disappointed that I was still there. With my heart burning with inexplicable anger, I would howl and scream, only to feel afterward a void in my heart. After such solitary tantrums, I would storm out and run to stand on a riverbank, listening to the sound of water. It was the first sound that I would hear coming back to my senses,” recalled the artisan. So he named his first child Mul (meaning “water”) and settled down at the head of the Seomjin River. In his teens, when he was driven by wild emotions, he would run away from home to go to Seoul, or roam around his hometown pushing a cart to collect junk to make a living. For some time later, he worked at a hotel kitchen making chocolates and leading a comfortable life. Before long, however, fascinated by a sculpture in the hotel lobby, he decided to study sculpture and start a new life. In the midst of his confusion, he stopped by the Jinggwang Onggi Shop on a trip to Beolgyo, South Jeolla Province, and this chance encounter became a turning point in his life. “When they asked me what brought me there, I answered before I knew it that I wished to learn onggi pottery,” Lee recollected, adding, “At that time, I used to spend every night reading back issues of ‘Deep Rooted Tree,’ a popular cultural magazine widely circulated in the late 1970s. Reading one of its articles about onggi pottery, I remember thinking, ‘This must be a job to avoid.’ Onggi potters
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â€œFiring pottery and fermenting food are similar in pattern because both are vital processes. The vessels quickly baked in a modern gas kiln cannot be the same as those fired tenderly and delicately in a wood-fired kiln for almost a week. Their fermentation capacities are different.â€? 48 KOREANA Summer 2017
could barely make ends meet, the article said, and going hungry had been my worst fear since childhood.” It was a time when onggi ware was falling out of favor for a number of reasons, including the widespread use of plastic goods and the scandal around the detection of lead in the chemical glaze, a substitute for the traditional natural lye, which resulted in a loss of trust in traditional earthenware. After all that, his time at Jinggwang Onggi Shop — two years and seven months, starting from 1990 — may be difficult to explain in a way that makes sense. Unlike most stories about the early careers of eminent artisans, there was no period of apprenticeship under an almighty master, whom he would have emulated to learn his skills. He was just managing the store, arranging the merchandise, and only occasionally had an opportunity to appreciate the works of Park Na-seop, a master potter who sometimes dropped by the shop. In his reminiscence of that time, two names came up repeatedly: Han Chang-gi, the publisher of Deep Rooted Tree, and Han Sang-hun, his younger brother and owner of the Jinggwang Onggi Shop. Declaring that he cultivated his aesthetic discernment through his association with these two men, Lee recalled, “In the store, we would call the publisher Grand Master and the owner Master. But the potter Park Na-seop we addressed just as Sir. Later, I would wonder why I had the talkers, not the doer, as my teachers. Then again, the easiest way to learn about onggi pottery might be through words.” At some point after this unconventional learning process, he was expected to immediately take over the responsibility of supplying onggi ware to the shop. Acquired mostly through observation, his skills were still incomplete, so his vessels would shatter in firing, or the kiln would collapse before his very eyes. He felt an urgent need to bring order to this chaotic situation. Eventually, however, he overcame difficulties and has been “able to make the products without a hitch since 1994.” In time, he opened Sonnae Onggi Shop in Jinan and started to sell his own wares. © Lee Sol
Stoking up the fire, Lee feeds more wood into the kiln to maintain the firing temperature. After the fire is lit, it takes about seven days until the glaze on the surface of the heated pottery is melted, the last step of the firing process.
Clay, Fire, Wind, and Sunlight Was the disjointed few years’ stint enough for him to learn? Why did he not try to learn more? He fell silent, seemingly searching for words, and then answered, “Well, the skills for making onggi vessels are … rather simple.” It may indeed be a simple craft because it only involves wheel throwing, glazing, and firing. Nevertheless, the potter should communicate with the clay, fire, and air to produce a decent piece of onggi ware. Lee explained: “The clay is either dead or alive. You can tell by the color. Dead clay tastes different and has a unique smell. It cannot hold tight, so it tends to droop when you throw it. An onggi vessel made with dead clay feels heavier — even when the same amount of clay is used — and tends to KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 49
buckle under the heat of the kiln.” What would be the best clay for onggi pottery? It is easy to find such clay, he noted, usually within a radius of 2–3 kilometers from where he lives. The clay from the fields is watery and that from the mountains crumbly, so the best place for collecting clay is an area where the mountain and the field meet, he explained. Then, where is the best clay produced? He answered, “It is true that there is a better type of clay to work with. Senior artisans would say that it’s safe to mix clays from three different regions, no matter where they are. Onggi pottery is like traditional herbal medicine: the potency comes from the harmony of all the ingredients, not from the efficacy of a single, prominent ingredient.” Then again, what texture was required of the clay? And what difference would such texture make in the final products? Asked a series of detailed questions, he backed off and just remarked, “I often heard people assert that onggi ware are ‘breathing vessels’ and so I almost expected I would find some supernatural quality in them. To my dismay, however, I found nothing of the sort. It is not the jars that breathe, but their contents do.” One of the essential functions of onggi containers is facilitating fermentation, allow50 KOREANA Summer 2017
ing air to circulate while preventing liquid from leaking, the potter explained. “Therefore, the clay should not be too dense, but it should have both fine and coarse grains, somewhat clumsily stuck together to allow air circulation,” he added in some awe, depreciating both his craftwork and himself. According to the potter, the particle structure is the property unique to onggi ware, different from that of porcelain. While the glaze for porcelain, applied for strength and hue, seals the surface with a vitreous layer, the lye glaze for onggi blends into the clay particles, creating micro pores for breathing. It is an optimal environment for fermented food to be stored fresh, enduring the alternating conditions of hot and humid summers and cold and dry winters. At that point, Lee found the right time to talk about fire. Onggi vessels, which tend to slacken in summer and contract in winter, can withstand climatic differences, which prevents them from bursting, although not just any fire can bestow such power on them. He stated, “You should stoke the kiln steadily, as if simmering food, and the fire should feel as delicate as the melodies of sanjo (traditional Korean solo instrumental music), or jazz. Firing pottery and fermenting food are similar in pattern because both are vital pro-
pots for herbal medicine. Believing that onggi ware has both practical and aesthetic appeal, the potter has consistently produced modern living items with properties similar to the traditional ceramic ware. Such efforts came to fruition as his “moon jar” and stew pots received the UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts in 2008. But his experiments did not end there. “In my family, we’ve had discussions on the role of onggi pottery, and our reference point until recently has been the mid- and late Joseon era from the 16th century, when earthenware pottery glazed with natural lye started to appear,” Lee said. “However, in our latest discussion, I suggested we put it back by several centuries to the Goryeo era, and pay attention to pottery as self-sufficiently procured necessities of life, not as commodities produced in society and supplied to individuals. With The Family Together in Experiments on Onggi that in mind, we’re planning various experiments — for example, “From jars for storing placentas (tae-hangari ) to bowls for firing pots in the Goryeo style and storing soy sauce in them.” cooked rice (omogari), crocks for collecting night soil (hapsu-dogaAll of his family members are trusted champions of his work: ji), and coffins for the dead (onggwan), onggi ware has been with the his wife, who majored in painting, provides him with artistic inspiraKorean people all through their lives from birth until death,” said tion; his son has learned pottery and runs the business with him; the master artisan, who sees diverse aspects of human life in onggi his first daughter, who majored in sculpture, gives him ideas about pottery. The list of onggi items used in households goes on: crocks household items, food, and other things; and his second daughter, containing condiments as well as fermented foods, lamp bowls who is studying publication editing, contributes by documenting his lighting up the darkness, braziers for burning charcoal, pots for diswork. They make pottery together, discuss their different views and tilling soju (rice liquor), and many more. experiences to develop a system or methodology for transmitting Continuing the tradition, Lee presented his new pottery works the craft, and explore even broader topics like food culture in genat the exhibition “Today’s Onggi: Lee Hyun-bae,” last winter at the eral. It is a process of learning that encompasses studying, cooking, southern branch of the Seoul Museum of Art. It featured a modern and eating, which is also offered to the public in a program entitled interpretation of onggi pottery in the form of a variety of tableware “Family Business.” and utensils, including noodle meal sets, Western dinnerware sets, Lee often goes to shops selling plastic goods or tools. He said, espresso cups and coffee roasters, and single-portion decoction “I visit these shops before I start making something new. I observe the changing 1 Featured at the exhibition “Today’s Onggi: Lee Hyun-bae” held last winter at the southern branch of the Seoul trends in the make-up of everyday articles. Museum of Art, an array of funerary urns are the products of the project that Lee and the Naju National Research Those cheap goods have no pretentions Institute of Cultural Heritage have conducted since 2008 in order to revive the skills for reproducing the ancient because they are simply faithful to their earthenware coffins excavated in the Yeongsan River basin. 2 Sets of condiment crocks in varied sizes featured at the exhibition demonstrate the artisan’s belief that onggi potfunctions. With time added, they become tery should keep up with modern living conditions and changing culinary practices. traditions.” Finally, he mentioned “thinking hands” — his hands, he seemed to imply, inscribed with all the memories, thoughts, and actions accumulated throughout his career as a potter. It is a concept seldom discussed by other artisans holding the title of Intangible Cultural Heritage, who tend to avoid verbalizing their ideas and declare that their work will speak for them. Lee is not a potter who wants to be explained by his products; he hopes to incorporate into his work the years in which he has lived as a potter. In those years the real Lee Hyunbae and his pottery exist. cesses. The vessels quickly baked in a modern gas kiln cannot be the same as those fired tenderly and delicately in a wood-fired kiln for almost a week. Their fermentation capacities are different.” The potter’s elaborate story of clay and fire moved on to that of wind and stars. For a few days, he went on, the thrown clay pots are left to dry before they are stacked in a kiln to meet fire. They are taken out before morning dew forms and left in the shade until the sun comes out. Treated this way repeatedly, the pots dry up more steadily. Lee says that exposure to sunshine makes a difference in the pottery although he still can’t tell exactly what makes the difference.
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A MODERN TAKE ON TRADITION 52 KOREANA Summer 2017
An experimental work combining modern and traditional elements, “Vortex” by the National Dance Company of Korea was a big sensation in the Korean dance scene. The music ensemble Be-Being is seated on one side of the stage, their music artfully complementing the performance dismantling and reassembling convention.
© The National Theater of Korea
An innovative attempt by the National Dance Company of Korea, “Vortex” was performed from March 30 to April 1, 2017, at the National Theater of Korea. It focused on the themes of nature and humanity as well as tradition and modernity, breaking away from the troupe’s roots in traditional Korean dance. Sung Ki-sook Dance Critic; Professor, Korea National University of Arts
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The National Dance Company of Korea’s creative experiments have thus far received mixed reviews. “Vortex,” however, could serve as a meaningful reference point for how far the company with its roots in traditional Korean dance can take its new artistic ventures.
ortex” is a clear departure from the choreographic style the National Dance Company of Korea has pursued over the past decades. The dancers convey the “unpredictable motions of the beginning of the universe” in an 80-minute performance of intense energy, leaving the audience in deep awe. Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen is the mastermind behind this bold undertaking. He studied Peking opera and Japanese Butoh dance, both of which have become an important influence on his work, as his debut piece in Korea has clearly illustrated.
Movements that Reject Convention The motif of Saarinen’s choreography is the “early ages of humanity,” with primeval rituals highlighted throughout the piece. At the same time, the movements aspiring to return to the beginnings are artfully interwoven with the modernity of the “here and now.” The performance begins with movements within stillness and stillness within movements. The adroit bodily movements of the dancers expressing the subtle beauty of the reversal demonstrate well-honed artistry. The unrefined, rough motions of some of the male dancers have a simple and unsophisticated beauty. The movements of the group dance are agile and fervent, projecting a primal force. The simple, lightweight costumes enveloping the dancers’ bodies, reminiscent of Greek tunics, allow unrestricted movements. A distinct departure from the typical costume of traditional Korean dance — full skirt and jacket, padded socks, and chignon — the thin, flowing garments are liberating. They bring to mind American dancer Isadora Duncan, who rejected the rigid technique of classical ballet and pioneered innovative dance techniques that earned her the title “the mother of modern dance.” The music was played by Be-Being, a contemporary ensemble led by Jang Yeong-gyu. This talented group is opening new horizons in theatrical dance music. Offering a contemporary take on traditional Korean instruments, including the haegeum (two-stringed fiddle), piri (bamboo oboe), and gayageum (12-stringed zither), the musicians delivered an outstanding performance that was at once tranquil, exhilarating, and explosive, and pansori (traditional narrative song) singer Lee Seung-hee was absolutely riveting. Blending modern and traditional elements, Be-Being’s light yet solemn music amplified the ritualistic atmosphere arousing new sensibilities. The stage design and lighting by Finnish set designer Mikki Kunttu were also noteworthy. He took the unprecedented step of removing the curtain on the left side of the stage and placing the band there. One drawback of this arrangement was that it made it difficult for the dancers to enter and exit the stage, disrupting the flow of the performance. Based on the theme of rituality, the lighting was at times dreamlike, at others jubilant; it clearly demonstrated why Mikki Kunttu is an artist of international repute. Experimental Endeavors “Vortex” premiered in 2014. The National Dance Company of Korea, known for its adherence to tradition, embarked on a brave experiment in 2013. Deviating from the framework of conventional theater dance, it sought to create a new performance aesthetic through “image dance,” or abstract concepts. 54 KOREANA Summer 2017
1, 2 The National Dance Company of Korea performs “The Scent of Ink,” choreographed by Yoon Seong-joo and premiered in 2013, at the Nights of Fourvière (Les Nuits de Fourvière) festival in Lyon, France in June 2016. The company had also been invited to present the work at the Hong Kong Arts Festival earlier in the year.
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1 The costume by Erika Turunen hides a microphone in its folds to amplify the sound of the wind caused by the dancer’s movements, which blended well with the music. 2 The stage set by Mikki Kunttu emphasizes the contrast of the yellow floor and the simple black background.
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The experiment unfolded in two directions. The first was collaboration with a choreographer working in contemporary dance, which resulted in “Altar,” choreographed by Ahn Sung-soo. The second was the first-ever collaboration with a foreign choreographer in the company’s 55-year history, and Tero Saarinen was declared its initial choice. Curiosity over his appointment was further augmented when it became known that world-renowned contemporary dancer and choreographer Carolyn Carlson had announced that Saarinen would reinterpret her legendary solo piece “Blue Lady.” What would a choreographer with an unrivaled reputation in Europe present to Korean audiences? The dance community awaited the outcome of this unprecedented endeavor with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. The premiere of “Vortex” was a success. Many talked about its exquisite stage art in which the disparate and unfamiliar intersected amid the mélange and clash of tradition and modernity, and East and West. Compared to the premiere, this year’s performance displayed a higher level of artistry. To begin with, the dancers’ movements were far more refined. Transcending genres, they achieved an intimacy stemming from the internalization of movements. Lead dancer Kim Mi-ae stood out, showing her ability to deftly render all types of movements, ranging from traditional Korean dance to modern dance. The artistry and spirit of Song Ji-yeong, Hwang Yo-cheon, and Lee Seok-jun left a deep impression on the audience; they are clearly on the road to becoming the main faces of the troupe. The collaboration among artists beyond national boundaries in music, lighting, and costume heightened the aesthetic value of the piece, resulting in its maturing artistry.
Possibilities and Limitations The new endeavors have opened doors for the dance company overseas. In 2015, “Vortex” was invited to the Cannes Dance Festival, and the following year, “The Scent of Ink,” choreographed by Yoon Seongjoo and acclaimed for its modern reinterpretation of traditional Korean dance and costume, was invited to the Hong Kong Arts Festival. “Shigane Nai” (“The Age of Time”), choreographed by Jose Montalvo, premiered in March 2016 at the National Theater of Korea and was staged again at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris a mere three months later. Whereas the company’s overseas performances in the past were largely part of its role as Korea’s cultural ambassador, its recent performances abroad are a sign of the increasing international recognition of its status as a dance company. Through collaboration with a preeminent foreign choreographer, “Vortex” clearly demonstrated how tradition can be modernized. Being non-Korean, the choreographer was able to freely cross the boundaries from traditional to modern to creative dance, adopting the flow of Korean dance solely as a source of creative inspiration. However, by freely incorporating any type of dance movement, the distinctive style of Korean dance was completely dismantled, so that at times it seemed as though only the movement itself remained. The National Dance Company of Korea’s creative experiments have thus far received mixed reviews. “Vortex,” however, could serve as a meaningful reference point for how far the company with its roots in traditional Korean dance can take its new artistic ventures.
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TALES OF TWO KOREAS
A collage of cover-page images of foreign language editions of “The Accusation,” a novel written by pseudonymous North Korean author Bandi, shows various facets of the reality of the reclusive totalitarian state. It was translated and published in various languages in many countries around the world early this year.
N. KOREAN DISSIDENT LITERATURE SPARKS GLOBAL INTEREST Unlike defectors’ memoirs exposing the cruel reality in North Korea, a collection of short stories written by an author still living in the North is drawing attention for its vivid literary depiction of the little-known everyday circumstances of the lives of its population. Translated and published in many foreign languages, “The Accusation” by Bandi offers a rare glimpse of North Korean creative writing. Kim Hak-soon Journalist; Visiting Professor, School of Media and Communication, Korea University
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n the eyes of the West, North Korean literature is not much more than a tool to praise and idolize the three generations of the Kim dynasty’s dictatorship. In fact, official North Korean literature is indeed based on the governing ideology of the supreme leader who sets out guidelines for the country’s writers in his annual New Year’s address.
Praise of the Regime and Criticism of Society However, it is wrong to think that North Korean literature is singularly about saccharine flattery of the regime. The poet Choi Jinyi, who defected to South Korea in 1998, wants to disabuse people of this common misconception; there certainly is more than meets the eye. She used to engage in literary activities as a member of the Poetry Subcommittee in the Central Committee of the [North] Korean Writers’ Union. She said, “Many people in the South tend to believe that North Korean authors only write works praising the regime. On the surface, there seem to be many literary works glorifying the regime; that’s because the North is an authoritarian society. But in fact, those who write such works are regarded as extreme sycophants, ignorant of the most basic concepts of literature.” When they are with trusted writer friends, at times even members of the union complain about the regime in a roundabout way, Choi said. One day, a writer who had written many poems eulogizing the regime’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il, was criticized disapprovingly by his writer friends. They said, “Why are you writing so many poems in praise of the Kims, while often speaking ill of them in private?” He replied evasively, “I thought of my God, not the Kims, when I wrote the poems. So what?” It is said that the late leader Kim Jong-il once turned down a poem presented by the writers’ union after reading it, saying, “This gives me goosebumps.” North Korean writers pay attention to various issues such as love in everyday life, choice of careers, divorce, the gap between urban and rural areas, or generational diversity. They are cautiously allowed to make critical comments on society, provided they main-
tain the intrinsic autonomy of literature and the socialist system. Nam Dae-hyon’s “An Ode to Youth” (1987) and Paek Namryong’s “Friend” (1988) had no ideological undertones, so they were published in South Korea in the late 1990s. “An Ode to Youth” deals with the prevailing ethos of love, focusing on the worthy lives of young intellectuals, scientists, and engineers. “Friend,” a novel on divorce that had become a bestseller in the North, drew overseas readers’ attention after it was translated and published in French in 2011. The book was the first North Korean literary work ever to be published in Europe. “Hwang Jin-yi” by Hong Sok-jung, a historical North Korean novel published in the South in 2004, made a sensation in Pyongyang in 2002. Hong is a grandson of Hong Myong-hui (1888–1968; pen name Byokcho), the author of “Im Kkokjong,” a historical saga highly acclaimed and widely read in both Koreas.
The Pseudonymous Author Bandi Dissident literature is taboo in the North. Anyone who writes a literary work explicitly criticizing the regime faces the certainty of incarceration in a political prison camp. Under these circumstances, a work by a pseudonymous author who is known to be living in the North has recently attracted wide attention in many countries, including South Korea. “The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea” is a collection of short stories by a North Korean author who uses the name Bandi (Firefly) as his pseudonym. His fame grew after he was dubbed “the North Korean Solzhenitsyn” by a French author. Bandi is a pseudonym the author gave himself, vowing to shed light on the reality in his destitute country, “just as a firefly shines only in a world of darkness.” Bandi is in a situation very similar to the fate faced by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), the 1970 Nobel laureate in literature, in the former Soviet Union. Just as Solzhenitsyn did, Bandi opposes the political system of his own country and smuggled out his manuscripts to the outside world because it is impossible for him to publish his works in his home country. It was only after two of Solzhenitsyn’s novels “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “The Gulag Archipelago” exposed atrocities of the Stalinist dictatorship that the literature of the Soviet Union began attracting widespread international attention. In the same vein, it was only after Bandi’s “The Accusation” was published that dissident literature in North Korea began entering the spotlight in the outside world. The seven short stories in this collection truthfully depict the harsh lives of people from various walks of life, groaning under the North Korean political system. Each story has a different theme and plot, but all are written under a single umbrella theme: the indictment of the rule of Kim Il-sung. The first story, “Record of a Defection,” is an epistolary-style story about a man who grows suspicious of his wife who secretly takes birth control pills. He writes letters to his friend telling him of his frustration about the hereditary “caste system” and his decision KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 59
to flee the country. “City of Specters” is a story about a family that was expelled from Pyongyang to a distant province “on blasphemy charges.” They had drawn the curtains shut at the window of their apartment because their three-year-old child had a seizure whenever he saw the portraits of Karl Marx and Kim Il-sung outside the window across the street. “So Close, Yet So Far” is a heartrending story about a son who fails to see his old mother at her deathbed. Although he manages to sneak into a train without a ticket, he is soon caught in a security check. In North Korea, nobody can travel anywhere without a travel pass. The last story is “The Red Mushroom.” Calling the Workers’ Party headquarters a “poisonous red mushroom,” a journalist calls for the overthrow of the Kim regime, crying out, “Pluck up that poisonous mushroom from this land — no, from the Earth forever!” In a thematic sequence from the first story to the last, all seven stories in the collection reflect the tortuous progression of the author’s rebellion against the brutal regime — from passive resistance by defection to calling for the overthrow of the Workers’ Party, the cradle of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
‘North Korea’s Solzhenitsyn’ The manuscripts of these stories were smuggled into South Korea in 2013, in painstaking secrecy worthy of an espionage operation. A female relative of Bandi’s fled the North and arrived in Seoul. Several months later, she told Do Hee-yoon, secretary general of the Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, about the manuscripts. By sending a letter to Bandi through a Chinese friend visiting the North, Do asked him to deliver his manuscripts. After reading the letter, Bandi took out the manuscripts from a secret hiding place where he had stored them. To dodge luggage inspections, he hid them among the regime’s propaganda materials such as “The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung” and other such literature. The coarse manuscript paper was in such a poor state that it looked as if it was from the 1960s or 70s. The yellowed paper showed the author must have pressed hard with a pencil when writing the stories a long time ago. The author himself had named the collection “The Accusation.” He had also created the pseudonym Bandi for himself. According to Do Hee-yoon, Bandi is a man born in 1950, who still lives in the North and is a member of the Korean Writers’ Union. There is speculation, though, that Do is hiding Bandi’s real identity to protect him. After many twists and turns,
the stories were published in Seoul in May 2014. In South Korea, few people paid attention to Bandi’s work. They merely took interest in the fact that the author was not a defector but still lived in the North and in how the manuscripts were smuggled out. Some people even suspected that the author was a fictitious person. Hence, the genuine worth and literary value of the work remained unappreciated. In contrast to such a cold response in South Korea, foreign readers and critics began showing keen interest in the work when its French edition was published in 2016. Pierre Rigoulot, a French historian and North Korea human rights activist and the director of the Institute of Social History in Paris, called Bandi the “North Korean Solzhenitsyn.” In his foreword for the French edition of “The Accusation,” Rigoulot wrote, “It’s a small firefly, but its hope is big.” The book received substantial mass media coverage in France, by dailies like Le Figaro and Libération, radio stations France Inter, France Info and RFI, and magazines like Marianne. “I’ve translated many Korean novels into French. But I’ve never felt more intellectually ecstatic than while translating the stories by Bandi. The plots are splendid,” said Lim Yeong-hee, translator of the French version. “The Accusation” has been translated into 19 languages and was published almost simultaneously in 21 countries, including Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and the United States, in March of this year, as well as, most recently, in Portugal. Its English translation was done by Deborah Smith, a British translator who shared the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2016 with Korean author Han Kang for her translation of Han’s novel “The Vegetarian.” Smith’s translation of “The Accusation” was among the 10 PEN Translates Autumn 2016 winners chosen by the English PEN. In New York, Korean-Americans organized a campaign to nominate Bandi for the Nobel Prize in Literature. “A collection of short stories written under a pseudonym and smuggled out of North Korea is on its way to becoming an international literary sensation,” Britain’s The Guardian has reported with effusive praise. “Dissident tales from pseudonymous author Bandi, still living in the country, are very rare fiction to emerge from the secretive dictatorship.” The Millions, an online literary magazine, picked “The Accusation” as one of the most anticipated books of 2017. Publishers Weekly, an American book review magazine, commented, “Bandi gives a rare glimpse of life in the ‘truly fathomless darkness’ of North Korea.” American online bookstore Amazon said, “‘The Accu-
“A collection of short stories written under a pseudonym and smuggled out of North Korea is on its way to becoming an international literary sensation,” Britain’s The Guardian has reported. “Dissident tales from pseudonymous author Bandi, still living in the country, are very rare fiction to emerge from the secretive dictatorship.” 60 KOREANA Summer 2017
Publishers and human rights activists from various countries participate in a reading event of “The Accusation” at the Bridge of Freedom near Imjingak Pavilion south of the demilitarized zone in Paju, Gyeonggi Province on March 30, 2017.
© Lee Seung-hwan (Dasan Books)
sation’ is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.” “[This] isn’t just a book with a good story behind it: it’s a collection of perfectly crafted novellas that, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work [from the former Soviet Union], speak with authority and truthto-power directness,” Hannah Westland, of Serpent’s Tail, the British publisher of “The Accusation,” said to The Guardian. “Bandi’s absurdist approach to satire is reminiscent of Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros,’ and his biting wit . . . reminds you of that other great Russian literary dissident, Mikhail Bulgakov.” “Bandi is much different from contemporary South Korean writers from a technical point of view. We can’t simply determine his skill level, given that the official goal of North Korean literature is to show the greatness of the Kim family. But we should focus on his spirit of barehanded resistance to the regime,” said Kim Jong-hoi, a professor of Korean literature at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Amid the high acclaim abroad, the Korean version of “The Accusation” has been republished by another publishing house three years after its debut in South Korea. With its new cover, the new edition focuses on the literary value of the book by remaining as faithful to the original manuscripts as possible. Dasan Books, the publisher of the new edition, said, “Readers will find the new edition very different from its previous edition of three years ago. We believe this one has good marketability.” It is worth noting that many literary works by North Korean defectors have also received more attention overseas than in South Korea. In 2012, poet Jang Jin-sung won the Rex Warner Literary
Prize from Oxford University for his poetry collection “I Am Selling My Daughter for 100 Won,” which truthfully reveals the miserable lives of the North Korean people. “Dear Leader,” his collection of essays published in 2014, ranked 10th among the top selling books in Britain that year. Kim Yu-gyong signed a publishing contract with French publisher Editions Philippe Picquier for her novel, “Ingan Modokso” (Camp for Defiling Human Beings), whose original edition came out in 2016. She used to write stories in Pyongyang as a member of the Korean Writers’ Union. She escaped from the country in 2000.
Response by South Koreans By comparison, South Korean readers are less responsive to North Korean literature than foreign readers, probably because they are less curious about society and life in the North. Many South Koreans hardly feel freshly informed and touched by North Korean literature that depicts the tragic reality of everyday life in the North, because they live in a standoff within spitting distance of North Korea across the demilitarized zone. On the radio, on TV, and in newspapers, they listen to, watch, and read about the lives of their erstwhile compatriots every day. While Americans and Europeans take nuclear threats from the North or the possibility of war on the Korean peninsula very seriously, South Koreans have become somewhat jaded and benumbed by continual threats and crises. Consequently, many South Koreans tend to look at North Korean literature primarily from an ideological point of view, rather than appreciate the authors’ literary depiction of their real-life experiences. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 61
IN LOVE WITH KOREA
Kim Hyun-sook CEO, K-MovieLove Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
Wolf Schröder broadcasts and commentates on professional eSports league games watched by gaming buffs all over the world. As a young boy in his hometown Atlanta, the United States, Schröder made friends with Korean gamers who shared StarCraft game strategy tips with him. While in college, the amateur game presenter was offered a job by a Korean cable TV network.
visited the Nexon Arena Studio in Gangnam, the upscale district in the southern part of Seoul, on the night of April 3, when an SSL Series 2017 game was held as part of the StarCraft II League. It was one of the full league games in which a total of 20 Korean gamers were to compete for nine weeks. I arrived an hour before the game started, but many people had already taken their seats in the studio. Most of them were young, and among them were many foreigners.
eSports Fever Runs High The game was streamed live via Naver, SPOTV GAMES, eSports, and YouTube, and a VoD service was also promised. As it was a big game, however, many people had come to see it in person. 62 KOREANA Summer 2017
eSports refers to video games using electronic systems, such as computers, video networks, or video game consoles. eSports buffs don’t just play games themselves, they also watch streamed games between pros and take part in the gaming industry’s cyberculture. Korea has a particularly advanced eSports fan culture. Whenever games are held on specially built stages at Seoul Plaza in front of the Seoul City Hall or at Busan’s popular Haeundae Beach, joyful shouts or dismayed sighs from thousands of spectators sweep through the entire area. Blizzard Entertainment, the American global video game maker of smash hits like StarCraft, holds media events in Korea whenever it rolls out a new game. On March 26, Blizzard Entertainment
CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime showcased “StarCraft: Remastered” at COEX in Gangnam, ahead of its release this summer. Morhaime is well aware that Korea is one of the countries that determine the success or failure of new video games. Blizzard created StarCraft I in 1998, but it was Korean users that led the evolution of online games into eSports. Who better than Wolf Schröder to explain the amazing eSports fever in Korea? To listen to what he had to say, I met him at the Nexon Arena Studio before the game started. “StarCraft was an inexpensive game that was playable for free in cheap PC-bang [internet cafés or LAN gaming centers]. The company OnGameNet, now known as OGN, created a tournament called the
OnGameNet Starleague (OSL), which officially started in 2000 and ran through 2012,” Schröder said. “During this time, the game grew in popularity along with the OSL, and viewership increased. Big sponsors like KT and SKT entered the scene. With telecom companies on board, other big name sponsors like Woongjin and Samsung joined in, and even the beer brand Hite had a team. StarCraft was broadcast on television by OnGameNet and then eventually on a new channel, MBC Game. For gamers, to be able to see their favorite game on television with professional players and big sponsors was incredible. Nowhere else in the world was eSports this popular, and Korean gamers were proud. That attitude still exists today.” Schröder seems to have a thorough grasp of Korea’s online game history, as if he had been here from the beginning when the industry first kicked off. As to why Korea is such a trailblazer for eSports, Schröder cited Korean gamers’ strict adherence to their coaches’ instructions as well as their tireless practice and strong sense of teamwork, built through group training.
An Atlanta Boy Spellbound by Video Games At one time, StarCraft was considered a highly addictive distraction, frustrating Korean parents who wanted their children to concentrate on their studies. Meanwhile, far away in Atlanta, the United States, the game was changing the fate of a young boy. Wolf Schröder first encountered StarCraft at the age of 10 and was immediately caught in its spell. He then found out that some Korean boys in his school were better at it than him and not only enjoyed Battle.net multiplayer games but even developed their own game apps by using editor apps. Those
Wolf Schröder, a freelance eSports broadcaster, is known for his unique style of broadcasting marked by breathtaking moments in the game interspersed with personal stories about the gamers.
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Schröder’s strength is his storytelling ability. He turns breathtaking gaming moments into exciting sagas by blending them with personal stories about the gamers rather than flatly commentating on the games. He does so because he doesn’t like gamers and fans overseas to regard Korean gamers as machines or robots.
Korean boys were not only good at games but also at math. As he befriended them, Schröder became mesmerized by the world of StarCraft. He also had the chance to try his first Korean food at their homes. He quickly acquired a taste for dishes like bulgogi and ramyeon as well as snacks like Ppushyeo Ppushyeo (a noodle snack) and Choco Pie. After entering Georgia State University, Schröder launched the Open Wolf Cup tournament, named after himself, and started a one-man online broadcasting program. A computer and a microphone were all he had, and he broadcast live from his apartment. As many as 128 gamers took part in the first tournament and the $50 cash prize came out of his own pocket. He also volunteered as a presenter or commentator for tournaments organized by other people. He quickly racked up broadcasts of around 100 games at 14 tournaments, in which some 130 gamers participated. Indisputably, he is a first-generation StarCraft presenter. To his utter disbelief, in his sophomore year, Schröder was offered a job by a Korean cable TV network. “I was invited to Korea to work as a broadcaster by GOMTV. They were looking for new broadcast talent to move to Korea and commentate on StarCraft II,” Schröder said. “Since I had quite a bit of experience in casting live tournaments, I was a natural fit for them. I had a long résumé, but actually had done an offline broadcast in a studio just once before. I was excited to ‘level up’ professionally and take my career to the next step, and Korea was the place to be!” In 2011, he quit college and flew to Korea, where he signed a one-year contract with GOMTV as a game presenter. 64 KOREANA Summer 2017
1 Wolf Schröder, wearing a cap emblazoned with the Korean national flag, poses for the camera. 2 Schröder, second from right, broadcasts an eSports game in the foreign broadcasters’ booth at the Nexon Arena Studio, where an SSL Series 2017 game is underway as part of the StarCraft II League.
By the time the contract expired, he had gained enough confidence to stay on and work freelance. He currently broadcasts five or six games a week, mostly StarCraft II, Heroes, and Overwatch, for GOMTV, AfreecaTV, and SPOTV. He broadcasts these games in real time on YouTube for his fans all over the world and his work sees him frequently travel overseas.
A Unique Broadcasting Style Schröder’s strength is his storytelling ability. He turns breathtaking gaming moments into exciting sagas by blending them with personal stories about the gamers rather than flatly commentating on the games. He does so because he doesn’t like gamers and fans overseas to regard Korean gamers as machines or robots. Schröder believes this image of Korean gamers is a result of their outstanding skills. Aware of this, Korean gamers sometimes say to him, “Put in a good word for me, Wolf!” But he keeps his distance from them for fear of losing his objectivity as a broadcaster and gathers information about them mainly through the media or their acquaintances. As Wolf Schröder gained recognition, the organizer of the 2016 KeSPA Cup recruited five presenters, three Koreans and two foreigners, which turned out to
be a success. When Schröder interviewed the Korean gamers in fluent Korean, he attracted wide attention and was given the Korean name Kim Eul-bu (a rough transliteration of “wolf”). Since then, he has been more actively exchanging messages with his Korean fans on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. About 10 game presenters with an international reputation, including Schröder, now live in Seoul. Schröder meets them frequently, though he keeps a healthy distance from gamers. As far as eSports is concerned, being the best gamer in Korea means being the best in the world. The same is true for game presenters. Of the 10 or so foreign game presenters, Schröder cited Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, Duncan “Thorin” Shields, and Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith as his role models.
They are all League of Legends commentators and presenters. “Their analytical style and quick ability to process and convey information is very impressive,” he said.
Love of Korean Food Schröder says he considers himself Korean. On social media, he stimulates his followers’ appetites with postings of himself enjoying Korean food. The revelation that he takes Korean food on his trips to the United States incited a huge response from his fans, and a photo of him using two forks like chopsticks, joking that he was more comfortable with chopsticks than with forks, brought a flurry of comments. Last winter, Schröder posted photos of himself participating in the candlelight protests at Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, calling on the then President Park
Geun-hye to step down. When the Constitutional Court finally removed her from office, he congratulated the Korean people on their victory, the result of enduring the long cold winter in the streets for the future of their country. On the day, he said he hoped everyone would have a good meal and enjoy the rest of the day. He received thousands of “likes” for that posting, with many fans saying, “Yes, there’s no doubt he’s Korean!” Indeed, when he returns from trips to the United States, Schröder jokes that there’s no place like his home in Korea. Schröder’s love of Korea clearly extends to its food. He still remembers the taste of grilled pork tenderloin he ate at a restaurant in Mapo, north of the Han River in Seoul, where the staff at GOMTV took him on his first day at his new job. “Korean food is by far the tastiest. I get to eat it all the time,” he said. “The flavor here is really strong, and food is always served piping hot, and is usually fairly spicy. When I first moved here, many Koreans told me they found it difficult to travel to America because the food there tasted bland or empty to them. Now I understand why! This is of course without mentioning that almost every Korean restaurant is open until late at night, they serve soju, and they’re all reasonably priced. Don’t go to America and try to spend the same amount of money on Korean BBQ. Expect to pay double or triple. A bottle of soju for 10 dollars or more.” Since his love of Korean food is widely known, he has been asked many times to appear on TV cooking shows or give interviews. But this 28-year-old young man seems to know better. He knows that he has no time for such things, and that he is an eSports presenter — no more, no less. Over the past six years, since he first settled near the GOMTV studios in the Mokdong neighborhood in northwestern Seoul, he has moved six times to find a better place. He is still dreaming of a house from which he can see the Han River when he raises the blinds in the morning. He believes it won’t be long before his dream comes true. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 65
ON THE ROAD
THE ROAD TO UTOPIA
Gwak Jae-gu Poet Ahn Hong-beom Photographer
Chungju and Danyang in the central inland province of North Chungcheong are full of spectacular scenery with rocky cliffs that descend to the waters of the Namhan River. Jungangtap, or the “Central Tower,” located in the middle of Chungju, is a monument left behind by Silla when it unified the ancient Three Kingdoms in the seventh century. It continues to stand today, marking the nation’s geographic center.
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KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 67
he rain fell softly. As old stories go, rain is a welcome gift for travelers. When mountains and fields, flowers and trees are quietly obscured in the rain, so does the traveler escape the web of life for a moment. Coming off the expressway, I parked the car by the road leading to Jungangtap-myeon, the “Town of the Central Tower,” in Chungju. Taking a deep breath, I said hello in my mind. Whenever I’m about to enter a city, breathing deeply is an old travel habit of mine. When I think of the traces of the lives of people who have lived on this land for generation after generation — their pain and joy, sorrow and longing, the dreams they harbored, and the despair they suffered, all floating in the air somewhere — I’m filled with a sense of awe. For a long time, it’s been my belief that the greatest cultural heritage of any city is the air that hovers over it. The Chungju locals like to call their city Jungwon, or “the midlands.” (Until 1995, its administrative name was Jungwon County.) They take pride in the fact that Chungju is the geographical and historical center of Korea. Any traveler will come to agree after spending just a couple of nights in the city. Embracing this city, formed alongside the Han River flowing through the center of Korea, are a legacy of old pagodas and monuments that attests to its past.
Land of Warriors The first place I wanted to visit to pay my respects was the Goguryeo monument. Though it is now officially called the Chungju Goguryeo Monument, many locals are still in the habit of calling it the Jungwon Goguryeo Monument. It is the only stone stele of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo remaining in South Korea. The stele is presumed to date back to the mid- to late fifth century, when Goguryeo, founded in present-day northeast China, also known as Manchuria, had expanded its territory southward to the central part of the peninsula. Part of the inscription carved on the surface says, “Goguryeo and Silla were like brothers, and the Goguryeo king presented some garments to the Silla king and his officials,” giving a glimpse at relations between the two ancient kingdoms. The stele is on display in an exhibition hall built near the spot where it was discovered and next to a wooded slope nearby is a replica of the monument; the hall and its displays serve to educate visitors on the history of Goguryeo, which for the most part ruled the territory that is now North Korea. A replica of Anak Tomb No. 3, North Korea’s National Treasure No. 28, is reproduced in 3D computer graphics. Clearly depicted in the tomb murals are members of the Goguryeo cavalry called gaemamusa, or “iron horse warriors.” Consisting of soldiers and horses fully clad in armor, the cavalry comprised the raiding units whose attacks broke through the enemy lines as well as the protective force that defended against attacks. At the height of its power, Goguryeo is said to have possessed an iron horse cavalry force of more than 50,000 warriors. In Western history, armored horses did not appear till much later: the earliest known record dates back to the battle between the Persians and Mongols in 1221. In 668, Goguryeo fell to Silla, the neighbor it had for some time seen as its sub1 ject and younger brother. It is not hard to 68 KOREANA Summer 2017
1 The Goguryeo Monument in Chungju is the only Goguryeo relic of its kind remaining in South Korea. Standing 2.03 meters high, it was presumably erected in the fifth century. 2 The road following Chungju Lake to Danyang passes by spectacular craggy karst landscapes and views of the winding course of the Namhan River. The famous “Eight Views of Danyang” can be seen up close by taking a ferry cruise.
imagine the Goguryeo monument’s subsequent fate, considering that it stood in the middle of a road in the “midlands.” Some believe that Goguryeo refugees, fearing persecution, would have buried the stele underground, while others speculate that it may have been used as an anvil stand at a blacksmith’s workshop, where it endured centuries of hammer strikes and puffing bellows, its inscription battered and distorted almost beyond recognition.
Symbol of a Unified Nation I turned my steps to the seven-story stone pagoda in Tappyeongri, my next object of tribute in the region. The Chungju locals like to call this pagoda the Jungangtap, meaning the “Central Pagoda.” Indeed, the current name of the administrative district to which it belongs was changed to Jungangtap-myeon, the “Town of the Central Pagoda.” Silla, which conquered its two neighbors Baekje and Goguryeo after many years of war, erected this pagoda in the middle of its territory. Around sunset, I circled the pagoda three times.
The number had no particular meaning, but I was thinking about the Three Kingdoms — Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje. All three had competed fiercely with each other, pursuing the dream of making history and creating an advanced civilization, but eventually, Silla emerged victorious. As I circled the pagoda, I could feel a strange, inexplicable energy emanating from it. I love the energy surrounding ancient pagodas. Once on a visit to the Khajuraho monuments in India, I sat in the shade of a stone stupa and wrote as many as 30 poems in half a day. Likewise, I wrote dozens of poems in one day at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Circling the shade of an old pagoda, I can almost hear the breathing and get a whiff of the smells of the people who over the ages dreamed and sang songs as they walked around it.
The Song of the Balmy, Rainy Night Tangeumdae is another place to visit if you want to fully appreciate the geographical and historical significance of this region. In KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 69
552, during the reign of King Jinheung, a man named Ureuk came to settle in Silla. He was from Gaya, a small state to the south of Silla, where music and rites were deemed highly important. There, he had invented a 12-stringed zither named gayageum and composed 12 beautiful pieces of music for the new instrument; the 12 strings of the instrument represented the 12 months of the year. The Silla king warmly welcomed this eminent musician and had him stay in Jungwon to teach music to court musicians. Tangeumdae is the riverside rock where Ureuk played the gayageum. The sound of plucking its strings would have exquisitely complemented the picturesque scenery of the winding river. There is indeed something gratifying about the way the ancient kings placed importance on rites and music as their tools for ideological guidance in state affairs. I wondered what a utopia is. What people value the most in life nowadays doesnâ€™t seem all that different from those who lived hundreds of years ago. In Chungju, there is a place called Muhak Market. This lovely name somehow evokes the image of merchants and shoppers
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dancing joyously like cranes around each other. The market takes the shape of a fishbone, with a long central path forming the spine and smaller paths branching off to the left and right. I followed the spine and made a turn into one side road, then another and yet another, until I managed to lose my way. There is nothing wrong with wandering around a market and getting lost, but finding my car posed a bit of a problem. After wandering about some more, I saw an old traditional house named Banseonjae. This is the house where Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary-general, grew up. The name reflects the goal of living in â€œa good and upright manner.â€? Unable to find my way back through the maze of small paths, I circled around the market on its outer rim. The happiness at finding my car two hours later was accompanied by a fit of hunger. I went into a place selling hot noodles, where the serving lady gave me an extra bowl of rice. It was as if she knew I was famished. That night in my room, I opened the window and listened to the rain falling all night. Back in the days of Silla and Goguryeo, there would also have
If there are no signs of human life, beautiful natural landscapes often seem incomplete. The beauty of nature gains utopian charm when the spirit of the people who lived there seems palpable.
1 Oksunbong, or “Bamboo Shoot Peak,” is so named because of its bluish-white rocks that rise up into the air just like fresh bamboo shoots. It is one of the most prized of the “Eight Views of Danyang.” 2 Mokgye ferry port, which was the center of water transportation on the Namhan River during the Joseon Dynasty, is now a departure point for river boat rides for tourists.
been those who opened their windows and listened to the rain fall throughout the night. Was there a piece about the rain among Ureuk’s 12 works, of which no trace remains today? A song about the sound of the rain on a night when the flowers bloomed? I dare say there was one. In the morning, the rain kept falling softly and quietly.
Reveries at the Old River Port Driving along the river on Road No. 599, I headed for Mokgye Ferry Port. Since the Joseon period, the largest market along the Namhan River has flourished here for centuries. Back then, products from the east and west coasts were traded here, and boats carrying grains paid as taxes in the three provinces of Chungcheong, Gangwon, and Gyeongsang, stopped here on their way to the capital. The waterway was open from March to November, and in July and August, when the rains swelled the rivers, even the bigger merchant vessels stopped here. Traveling by water, it took around 12 to 15 hours to reach Seoul, and going against the current, it took anywhere from five days to two weeks to return to Mokgye. During the Joseon era, some 800 households lived in the riverside village, and 100 boats were regularly docked there, which gives a good idea of the size of the port. On the hillside is a monument inscribed with the poem “Mokgye Market” by Shin Kyung-rim. The sky urges me to turn into a cloud, the earth urges me to turn into a breeze; a little breeze waking weeds on the ferry landing, once storm clouds have scattered and rain has cleared. To turn into a peddler sad even in autumn light, going to Mokgye Ferry, three days’ boat ride from Seoul, to sell patent face powders, on days four and nine. The hills urge me to turn into a meadow flower, the stream urges me to turn into a stone. — From “Mokgye Market” by Shin Kyung-rim; translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé I was lucky. The river market opens on the fourth Saturday of every month. That was the day I arrived there. The market is a kind of flea market, but all the goods on sale are handmade. I liked everything that I saw. I had two seals made, one in Korean script and one in Chinese characters, both of which turned out wonderful. Then I bought some cheong gukjang and doenjang (both types of soybean paste, the former much stronger in taste) and citron jam as well as a wooden figurine and a small purse. When I paid for a few key rings, my wallet ran dry. The mindset of people who make things with their hands can be summed up by the Korean word jeong2 seong, which means putting your whole KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 71
heart into what you are doing. People who work this way are generally benign; I believe benign people do not harm others. They are the very people who make our world worth living in. These people at the market told me that in April the riverside gets covered in yellow rapeseed flowers and so I should visit again around that time next year.
Ferry Ride on Chungju Lake It is hard to express in words the beauty of the trip along Chungju Lake to Danyang. The endless road follows the water. In the misty rain, the road was warm and comforting. It seemed as though it would never end, no matter how far you went. But everything that has a beginning also has an end. About an hour later, I stopped the car at Janghoe Ferry Port. For quite some time, I had meant to take the Chungju Lake ferry from there. But the raindrops began to grow bigger. I wondered if the ferry would sail at all, but surprisingly, there were a lot of passen-
gers and the boat got completely filled. I wondered about Gudambong (“Turtle Pond Peak”) and Oksunbong (“Jade Shoot Peak”) on the lake, two of the Eight Views of Danyang. Would I get a good view of them? The scenery here was a favored subject for famous Joseon artists such as Kim Hong-do and Jeong Seon, and Confucian scholars such as Yi Hwang wrote that it was even more beautiful than the Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers in China. But the rain had no intention of letting up. Grabbing my umbrella, I headed for the deck. The air was filled with rain and mist, the sky covered in clouds, and sadly, the sights were not to be seen. Then again, it was too much to expect spectacular views on my very first trip here. My encounter with the two peaks, which I had longed to see since reading Shin Kyung-rim’s poem “Mokgye Ferry” in the 1980s, had to wait until the next time.
Sites to Visit in Chungju
Seoul 130km Chungju
Muhak Market Tangeumdae Chungju Lake
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Ondal Mountain Fortress
1 When the ferry goes 200 meters upstream from Dodam Sambong, a stone arch like a cave entrance hugging the water can be seen on the left bank of the river. 2 Dodam Sambong is an island composed of three rocky peaks sitting in the middle of water in the upstream reaches of the Namhan River.
Landscapes and the Lives of People When I got back on the road, the rain began to thin. In front of me, I could see Dodam Sambong (“Three-peak Island”), its three rocky peaks rising above the water’s surface in a bend of the upper reaches of the Namhan River. A famous British traveler came here in the 19th century. Isabella Bird Bishop, the first woman fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, described the scene in her book, “Korea and her Neighbors”: “The beauty of the Han culminates at To-tam [Dodam] in the finest river view I had then ever seen, a deep stretch with a broad bay and lofty limestone cliffs, between which, on a green slope, the picturesque deep-eaved, brown-roofed houses of the village are built.” Bishop had seen two things: the picturesque peaks of Dodam and the thatch-roofed houses on the hill. If there are no signs of human life, beautiful natural landscapes often seem incomplete. The beauty of nature gains utopian charm when the spirit of the people who lived there seems palpable. At Dodam, I climbed the steps till I was some 300 meters up the steep mountainside and went about 100 meters down again until a gateway of stone appeared. The blue-green water of the river can be seen between the caves. The ideal world of nature carries a certain dignity. I wonder how Bishop managed to get here at the end of the 19th century, when transportation would have been difficult at best. From where I stood, I could see the lights in the village come on one after another, shining beautifully through the rainy air. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 73
AN ORDINARY DAY
Lee Chun-suk’s Deft and Joyful Scissor Work Anyone who is friends with their hairdresser is bound to be happy. There’s nothing more fortunate than having a lasting relationship with a good hairdresser. Lee Chun-suk is a hairdresser with a particular talent for turning customers into old friends. The way she does it is simple and ordinary. Kim Seo-ryung Director, Old & Deep Story Lab Ha Ji-kwon Photographer
ee Chun-suk gets to her workplace in Imundong, eastern Seoul, at 10 o’clock in the morning. The sign out front reads “Lee Jeeun Salon.” The name is the one she chose for herself, not her given name. In the center of the 100-square-meter space is a mirrored wall with four chairs facing it on either side. The time it takes for all eight chairs to be filled with customers is different each day. Yesterday, there was a constant stream of customers from the time the doors opened and lunch had to be delayed. But today, the customers all came flooding in at around the same time in the afternoon.
Regulars Catch Up and Unwind In one corner of the shop there is a large table. It’s set up as a resting place for customers. People waiting their turn, people with their hair all wrapped up in cling film while the hair dye takes effect, people with colorful rods of different sizes dangling from their hair; they all sit around this table, flicking through magazines, looking at their phones, or enjoying a sweet nap. On the table are snacks and refreshments like coffee, fruit, sweets, biscuits, and chocolate. Apparently, in the winter there is even a box of sweet potatoes kept in the corner and a small oven on the table to roast them in. 74 KOREANA Summer 2017
Lee Chun-suk, who turned 62 this year, began hairdressing as a profession when she was 26 and hasn’t stopped since. After setting up shop in nearby Seokgwan-dong and working there for many years, she had to move to Imun-dong when her old neighborhood was knocked down for redevelopment. Despite the move, most of her customers came with her and have remained loyal regulars over the years. For them the salon is not just a place to get a haircut or a scalp massage, it’s a place to share the occasional snack, catch up on gossip, and de-stress. “We’ve probably got more customers who come to our salon from far and wide than from our immediate surroundings. They come from places not far off like Uijeongbu, but also from cities as far away as Cheonan, Daejeon, and even Gwangju. You see, they don’t come just to have their hair done. They come to meet people, to talk about this and that....” Lee explains with a bright smile. The Korean term for someone who works with hair has long been miyongsa, meaning “beauty technician.” Lately, however, a growing number of people in this profession are using the English term “hair designer.” But, for Lee, the Korean term with its meaning of “a person skilled in making the whole appearance beautiful” is still more appealing. In the same way, Lee’s real name “Chunsuk” feels warm and familiar now, though back in the old days, she felt like it was too old-fashioned to put on the sign outside her salon and so chose “Jeeun” as a more modern-sounding name. With her robust body, agile movements, and radiant complexion, it’s difficult to tell Lee’s age at first sight. “I guess I have been so busy creating beautiful hairstyles for my customers over the years that I haven’t had time to age,” she jokes. “When I’m working with hair, I feel calm and at peace. And then, when I’m putting the finishing touches on someone’s hairstyle, I feel a certain joy — a profound satisfaction.”
For decades, salon owner Lee Chun-suk has placed the greatest importance on keeping each and every strand healthy when styling her customersâ€™ hair. She believes that making a good first impression relies on having healthy hair.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 75
What’s Even More Important than Style The first thing she takes note of when she sees someone is the state of their hair. “I’m really particular about the health of my customers’ hair. I won’t let them have a perm more than three times a year,” she says. “They’re my customers, so if their hair gets all frazzled it’s me who has to deal with the damage. The thing is, no matter how great their style or how nice their clothes are, unhealthy hair makes a person’s whole appearance shabby.” Lee has plenty to say on the science of beautiful hair. “Hair ages and gets worn down. If you look at it under a microscope, the core of each hair is full of holes. For hair to be healthy, you need to fill those holes with good proteins and keep it slightly acidic. If someone’s hair is healthy, all it takes is a good cut to give it a great look. The way hair is dried is important, too. The best way is to bend your head forward and towel dry, softly but thoroughly.” When she was younger and seizing every opportunity, Lee even ran a separate salon inside a wedding hall in the well-off neighborhood of Gahoedong. She made so much money that she put millions of won in the church collection basket and enjoyed the luxury of being a VIP customer at her favorite department store. “With money, after a certain point, it doesn’t matter how much you earn because it has no meaning of its own. I realized that the only thing that remains is the moment of satisfaction when you have created a beautiful hairstyle for a customer. Most customers fall asleep while I’m doing their hair. Then, whether I’m cutting or giving a head massage or whatever, I feel totally relaxed too,” she says. A Vocation Discovered at an Early Age Lee Chun-suk grew up in a seaside village near Gangneung. She already enjoyed styling other people’s hair as a high school student and would always be combing her friends’ hair. “Most days, Chun-suk would re-do my pony tail for me. It would always look prettier and more stylish when she did
it,” recalls a customer and old high school classmate. Another friend from her home village says, “I just couldn’t forget Chun-suk’s skills, so since we were young she’s the only person I’ll have do my hair.” Lee explains how she started out. “After graduating from high school, I was working in an office when a relative brought me a set of electric hair tongs as a gift from a trip to Japan. If I styled my hair with them in the morning, people would tell me all day long how amazing my hair looked. It got to the point where other female employees would come to the accounts department where I worked, asking me to do their hair. I wondered if it might be a better way for me to make a living, so I took evening classes after work. Back then, the list of candidates who passed the hairdresser certification exam was posted on the notice board outside Seoul City Hall. Two-hundred people took the exam and only 11 got through. The competition was that fierce.” Lee opened her first salon in 1981 and the years have since passed by in a flash. Women who frequented her salon when they were pregnant would show up again as mothers with their babies in tow. The babies would cry, but it didn’t bother Lee because she had also raised her own two children in the salon. Her daughter, now a university student, stops by whenever she has time to lend a hand.
Always Learning “Including the assistants, we have seven employees. Three of them have been with us for over 20 years. They all have their own regulars,” Lee says. “I don’t pay them a salary, but I simply provide the tools, products, and the space. They operate like individual businesses and contribute a small part of what they earn to the running of the salon. They’re experienced and good at what they do, so they probably take home about 3.5 to 4 million won a month. I earn much less than that. I’m not as young as I was, so really I’m grateful when regulars come in asking for me to do their hair. That’s what keeps me at it.” When Lee first opened her salon, “Yoon Si-nae hair,” the sphinx-like disco hairstyle sported by the popular singer, was the most coveted look. Whether the hair was permed or set, hair styling was all about creating volume, and the skills of hairdressers were judged accordingly. It was a time when just a perm was not enough; it had to be a perm that emphasized the curls for maximum effect and kept its shape for as long as possible. People walking the streets with naturally straight hair were considered completely lacking in style. Gradually, however, preferences have been changing towards a more natural look, and a growing number of people these days avoid the perfectly styled salon look. Of course, Lee’s preferences have changed with the times, too. “If we are not to lose out to the big name salon franchises, small independent salons like ours have to be one step ahead of the trends. You have to cut your customers’ hair the way they want it, but at the same time, the results have to exceed their expectations. Even with perming, new techniques and technologies are being developed every year. Cutting techniques change even more
“Being a hairdresser isn’t just about working with hair, it’s about touching people’s hearts. Whether customers chatter while they’re having their hair done or stay completely silent, the hair salon is a space of healing.” 76 KOREANA Summer 2017
often. You have to keep learning and mastering new skills to give your customers a new and fresh feeling every time they come by,” Lee says, adding that just recently, she attended a seminar to learn the hairstyles that are popular in Italy this year. She goes on, “Most of my customers are older women, so it’s important to make their hair look lightweight. ‘Light and youthful!’ That’s the motto for this year. The more conservative a customer is about her hair, the more important it is to cut it with the latest techniques. That’s the only way to make it look somehow attractive when they style their hair at home. For customers who don’t like change or
Lee talks with a first-time customer about how she wants her hair done. With each customer, Lee’s task begins by listening carefully to their ideas and considering what will work best.
following trends, it’s the subtle gift of a slight change. Even with the same short style, the way you cut it makes a world of difference.” The proportion of customers who simply entrust their hair to the hairdresser’s hands and those who ask for a particular shape or style is always about fifty-fifty. Many people come in asking to have their hair done exactly like that of an actress or model seen in a magazine. At such times, if it’s a style that won’t suit the person’s features or facial shape, the hairdresser needs to know how to gently persuade her to go for something else. Just by feeling someone’s hair, Lee can now tell whether that person is the stubborn type or can embrace a new style. “Being a hairdresser isn’t just about working with hair, it’s about touching people’s hearts,” she says. “Whether customers chatter while they’re having their hair done or stay completely silent, the hair salon is a space of healing. It’s for the same reason that I set up such a big resting space and lay on plenty of snacks. For a perm or color treatment, customers have to spend two or three hours in here. At least for that time, I want them to be able to relax and feel like, ‘Ah! This is the most comfortable place in the world!’” Tomorrow, Lee Chun-suk will again begin her day opening the doors of her salon at 10 o’clock in the morning and laying out snacks for her customers. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 77
Charles La Shure Professor, Department of Korean Language Education, Seoul National University Kim Hoo-ran Culture Editor, The Korea Herald
BOOKS & MORE 78 KOREANA Summer 2017
An Existential, Lyrical, and Unconventional Soliloquy on Isolation “A Greater Music” By Bae Suah, Translated by Deborah Smith, 128 pages, $13.95, Rochester: Open Letter Books 
Bae Suah’s “A Greater Music” feels very much like an experimental work of music itself, shunning conventions of rhythm, melody, and tempo to pioneer new lyrical expressions. And although this is a novel, the language is definitely lyrical, often merely hinting at senses and emotions in long, almost stream-of-consciousness paragraphs. Thus, while the story is not without a concrete theme, more often than not it leaves the reader feeling rather than thinking. The novel is also a case study in how a text can be different things for different audiences. While it is unconventional in reviews to compare a translation to its original, this work seems unconventional enough to warrant at least a passing discussion. On the most basic level, this is the story of a young Korean writer in the distant land of Berlin, struggling with cultural differences, the language barrier, and her own demons. While in Germany, she befriends three people: Joachim, a metalworker with pedestrian tastes whose great love is his dog Benji; Erich, a seemingly disciplined and effective language teacher; and the enigmatic “M,” a woman with lofty ideals and a rather unorthodox pedagogical methodology. But the text changes in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways in its translation from Korean to English, making for a very different experience. Perhaps it is a function of Korean literature in general, but in the original there is little question that the protagonist is a Korean in a foreign land, and quite a few passages are devoted to describing the exotic nature of Germany and its culture. In the translation, though, we do not find out the protagonist’s nationality until the fourth chapter, a quarter of the way through the book. Nothing has been changed; this is just something that happens naturally. Something else that happens naturally is how we learn about the gender of M. From the first page of the translation, M is referred to as a woman, but in the original it is not until the very end of chapter six — well over halfway through the book — that we get our first hint at M’s gender, when she and the protagonist are referred to by Erich as “ladies.” Again, though, this is just a function of the Korean language, which does not require gendered pronouns. Slight differences like this can significantly affect what a text says to different audiences. One thing that does come across in both texts is the sense of isolation that the protagonist feels. This is due in part to the language barrier, which the protagonist despairs of ever overcoming, but it is also due to the cultural differences between Korea and Germany. Visiting Joachim’s family for Christmas, the protagonist watches a family interact in a way that she has never seen before. And no matter how many parties she goes to, she just can’t bring herself to mingle with the other young people there. This leads to her being seen as aloof and conceited, which only perpetuates the cycle of loneliness and anomie. It is not just the protagonist’s experiences that create this sense of isolation; Bae Suah’s often dream-like prose and unconventional plot structure deliberately prevent the reader from finding solid ground. We feel like the protagonist when, toward the beginning of the novel, she recounts falling into an icy river: enveloped in a bitter cold, suspended in a fugue state, “repeatedly sinking beneath the surface only to float up again a few moments later.” And so we take another gasping breath of air before we are enveloped once again by those lilting, lyrical lines.
Timely Book on the ‘Whys’ of Korean Ways “K-Style: Living the Korean Way of Life” By Choi Jung-wha, 251 pages, 30,000 won, Seoul: Design House 
With her decades of experience as interpreter of French and Korean and interacting with foreigners, Choi Jung-wha, professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and president of Corea Image Communication, has a good vantage point from which to talk about Korean culture and lifestyle. In this book, she sets about interpreting Korea for foreigners, for which she is uniquely qualified. The book is divided into the four seasons of the year, and Choi starts with a chapter on the school entrance ceremony in March, giving insight into this rite of passage for all Korean students. In Korea, the academic year kicks off in March with ceremonies marking the start of different levels of education — kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school, and university. Choi manages to weave in many aspects of Korean life, taking the school entrance ceremonies as a jumping point. From there, she brings the reader’s attention to the low birth rate plaguing Korean society: “Behind the merry celebrations, however, lies the lonely face of Korean society: children are becoming rare.” This naturally leads to a discussion of the difficulties of working mothers and how grandparents often step in to help with childcare. Somehow, Choi manages to tie a discussion on Koreans’ fervor for education with a unique housing rental system called jeonse, a lump sum deposit for rent which, she says, cannot be found any-
Online Marketplace of Korea Travel Products http://www.onemoretrip.net Operated by Seoul Tourism Organization
At first glance, the trial version of “One More Trip” is confusing. That is, until you realize after a few clicks that it is a marketplace of various products offered by independent vendors. Operated by the Seoul Tourism Organization, this online open market platform is a nifty idea: You can purchase a wide range of travelrelated programs, tickets, and other products on one single site. While the concept is great and such a service long overdue, the site is not the most attractive. The uniform look of the pages may make browsing efficient, but the accompanying photographs are
where else in the world. She then explains how parents are faced with the choice of becoming homeowners in less expensive parts of Seoul or staying renters in Gangnam, where the high rent is attributed to the presence of feeder schools to the country’s top universities and, perhaps more importantly, cram schools, or hagwon. The book is written in a chatty and engaging style. One observation leads to another and yet another, much like a free-flowing conversation. Some of the explanations can seem generalized, but this volume makes no pretense at being a book on sociology or cultural study. “K-Style: Living the Korean Way of Life” is essentially an entertaining observation and explanation of Korean life today. Accompanied by photos that succinctly capture the given topics, the book can be read by randomly opening up a chapter or by selecting one from the table of contents that sparks curiosity. A cultural communications expert, the author tasks herself with answering the whys — “Why does Korea…” and “Why do Koreans…” — posed by foreigners. Through her eyes, readers experience the four seasons of Korea, with their attendant traditional rites as well as new trends.
lackluster and fail to spark interest. There are even some cases of flagrant mismatch between the product on sale and the accompanying photographs. For example, the “Ancient Palaces Night View Tour” shows photos of “Nanta,” a popular non-verbal performance, and a photo of a group crossing the Cheonggye Stream. The typography is also uninspired for a website that ought to look exciting and tempting. Some categories of services are underserved. The transportation category, for instance, features just two products: a car rental service and an airport pick-up service. The concierge section seems redundant, with two of the three companies listed offering products that show up elsewhere and one company offering no products at all. Overall, this is an efficient site. However, to create a buzz, the site’s operator will need to update its look and work harder to attract more vendors. In the meanwhile, once you sign up as a member, a simple process with no obligations, you are entitled to a 30 percent discount on many of the products on offer.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 79
THE SPLENDID FORBIDDING LOOKS, TOOTHSOME TEXTURE Octopus has long been a prized seafood served only on special occasions, such as ancestral rites or banquets. But thanks to the ever-increasing globalization of food supply chains, octopus is found on dinner tables more and more frequently and the range of dishes starring these mysterious creatures of the deep sea has grown more diverse nowadays. Soul Ho-joung Freelance Writer
80 KOREANA Summer 2017
hat is the best way to cook octopus, that fascinating and nutritious mollusk of the deep sea? Everything about its flavor and visual appeal seems to depend on how it is boiled. Even for a fried dish, it has to be boiled first. A successful boiling guarantees the taste of all manner of octopus dishes.
It Takes Some Effort Before boiling an octopus, one has to wash it well. Its slimy body has to be rubbed all over with salt and thoroughly cleaned, especially the rows of powerful suction cups on the underside of its tentacles. But as too much rubbing with rough salt might abrade the skin and make the meat salty, some suggest rubbing it with sugar or flour instead. In southern European countries, such as Spain, Portugal, or Greece, another step is customary before boiling. The octopus is whirled in an “octopus tumbler” which looks like a washing machine. Or it is beaten all over with a meat mallet. People living along the Greek coast even used to beat octopuses against rocks to tenderize their meat. In Korea, radish is commonly used when boiling octopus in order to soften it. Its whole body is rubbed and patted with grated radish, then boiled with more radish. The radish juice helps soften the octopus meat, and also neutralizes the fishy smell. Boiling octopus with dried persimmon is said to have the same effect. Whereas in Japan, radish is added along with green tea leaves and red beans, in Italy octopus gets boiled with wine corks. Dried persimmon, green tea, red beans, and residual wine in the cork stopper all have tannin in common, so tannin appears to work some magic on octopus meat. There are more than 300 kinds of octopuses living in the five oceans. Among them, only two kinds are caught along the Korean coast: the small chammuneo (Octopus vulgaris) and the large daemuneo (Enteroctopus dofleini), also known as the giant Pacific octopus. Both turn red when dried, so they are called pimuneo, meaning “blood octopus,” whereas those that are skinned and dried are called baekmuneo, “white octopus.” The giant octopuses, caught in the deep East Sea, can weigh up to 50 kilograms when fully grown, and their tentacles can be as long as 3 meters or even longer. The small common octopus lives in spaces between stones in the shallow coastal waters of the South Sea: even the grown ones weigh only about 3.5 kilograms. An octopus has a large round head (actually a pocket of internal organs), a short body (which includes the brain and eyes), and eight tentacles. In Korea and Japan, the whole octopus is eaten, while in Mediterranean countries the head is usually cut off and thrown away. The Exquisite ‘Blood Octopus’ When Koreans think of octopus dishes, the first thing that comes to mind is muneo sukhoe, thinsliced boiled octopus eaten dipped in a sauce of red chili paste and vinegar. For this dish, frozen octopus imported from the Philippines, Indonesia, Morocco, and China are more likely to be used these days as fewer and fewer octopuses are caught along the Korean coast, and prices have risen as a result. Since it’s hard to farm octopus, all imported octopuses are caught at sea. In North Gyeongsang Province, a small octopus is boiled and served whole for banquets or ancestral rites. In Andong, an old town in this province known for its yangban aristocratic traditions, octopus has long been considered the most exquisite of foods; at ancestral rites or at formal dinners, no table should lack octopus to serve the guests. There is only one warning, an old wisdom, to avoid an upset stomach: do not eat gosari (fiddlehead fern, Pteridium aquilinum) and octopus together when partaking of sacrificial food from ritual tables. There is a tradition of cutting a large dried octopus in various decorative shapes for ceremonial use, which is called muneojo. The dried octopus is put in a jar for a while to be softened, and then cut into exquisite shapes, such as a chrysanthemum or a peacock, with a craft knife. Traditionally, the work was done by male members of the family ahead of memorial rites. Nowadays, however, this is rarely seen. KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 81
1 Muneojo cut in the shape of chrysanthemums by Seo Yong-gi, a master artisan of traditional ceremonial food of South Jeolla Province. Dried octopus cut in various decorative shapes are displayed on the ceremonial tables of ancestral rites. 2 Muneo sukhoe , boiled and thin-sliced octopus eaten with a sauce of red chili paste and vinegar, is the favorite octopus dish of most Koreans.
In Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces, dried octopus pieces are added to enrich the flavor of the clear soup served at ancestral rites. Octopus is also a choice ingredient for the porridge that mothers are fed after giving birth. Porridge cooked with soaked dried octopus and jujube is said to help mothers recover more quickly from childbirth. The octopus porridge of Jeju Island is touted as a stamina food for the haenyeo, the island’s famed female divers. First, well-soaked rice is stir-fried in a pan, and fresh octopus, pounded in a mortar beforehand, is added and let to simmer. Then the octopus is taken out and shredded before being returned to the pot to boil more. Its red skin dyes the porridge pink, and the meat is very tender. In Yeosu, a port city in South Jeolla Province, dried octopus is first washed carefully and soaked in lukewarm water for two hours, marinated overnight with several ingredients, and then steamed. Locals regard this steamed octopus as one of the finest octopus dishes around. There are also other dishes, such as muneo hoemuchim, boiled and thin-sliced octopus mixed with cucumber and other ingredients; and muneo jorim, boiled and thin-sliced octopus simmered down in Japanese-style soy sauce. At Pulperia Ezequiel, a restaurant in the small town of Melide in the Spanish province Galicia, Korean guests are not infrequently found. They enter the restaurant on tired legs, lugging large backpacks on an epic walk. They are modern-day pilgrims on the Road to Santiago de Compostela. Almost as soon as they arrive, they shout their order, “Pulpo (octopus), please!” They are ordering a Spanish dish similar to Korean octopus salad, the boiled and thin-sliced octopus mixed with olive oil and salt and sprinkled with a little spicy, red paprika.
Various Medicinal Effects Like all good food ingredients, octopus is also taken for medicinal effects. As a folk remedy, octopus ink was used to help ease hemorrhoids, and water boiled with octopus to ease hives and frostbite. The water was also supposed to cure a stomach upset from eating too much beef.
In Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces, dried octopus pieces are added to enrich the flavor of the clear beef soup served at ancestral rites. Octopus is also a choice ingredient for the porridge that mothers are fed after giving birth … The octopus porridge of Jeju Island is touted as a stamina food for the haenyeo, the island’s famed female divers. 82 KOREANA Summer 2017
Recently, octopus has garnered more attention due to the taurine it contains. Taurine, a kind of amino acid, is known to be effective in preventing blood vessel disease and Alzheimerâ€™s. The white powder on dried octopus and squid is taurine, and octopus has the highest taurine content among all mollusks.
Famous Octopus Restaurants In 1955, the Yeongdong Line was opened to connect the ports of Gangwon Province and the inland regions of North Gyeongsang Province. Then, octopus caught in the East Sea and boiled came to be delivered by train across the mountainous countryside to the terminal station in Yeongju. Enroute to delivery in the ambient temperature of a slow train, the boiled octopus matured and gained more flavor. Thatâ€™s probably the reason for the assertion that octopus eaten in Yeongju is especially tasty. With refrigerated distribution being the norm today, fresh octopus caught in the East Sea is delivered unprocessed to its destination, where it is boiled and then matured for a while before selling. The boiled octopus of Mukho Octopus House at Yeongju Market is renowned and highly sought after. The octopus salad of the seafood restaurant Sanho in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, is known for its tenderness and fresh scent. Fresh octopus delivered from Masan, a southern port city, is boiled in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes, and then boiled again in an ordinary pot until tender. Adding green tea powder, finely grated radish, and some of its inner organs into the boiling water is among the chefâ€™s secrets. The octopus salad of Goraebul, a restaurant in Yeoksam-dong, Seoul, is known for its special way of cooking: the octopus is only blanched, or parboiled. The meat under the cooked skin remains raw and leaves a fresh, briny aftertaste. While being boiled in water with kelp and radish, the octopus is put in and taken out several times to gradually cook the skin only. The restaurant owner explains that they use octopus delivered from Yeongdeok, an eastern coastal city in North Gyeongsang Province, which is famous for large snow crabs as well.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 83
GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL REUNIONS
FRIENDSHIPS LASTING THROUGH THE GOLDEN YEARS It has been more than 130 years since Korean girls and women started to acquire formal education with the introduction of the Western school system in the country. Women have since made their way into the public sphere, but for many a high school reunion still remains a rare opportunity after school and marriage to get in touch with the world outside of family and in-laws. Kim Yoo-kyung Journalist Choi Jung-sun Photographer
he high school years are recalled by many as their most memorable time in school. For women who went to school at a time when girls and boys were strictly segregated, the connection with their friends from that period is very special and continues long after graduation, kept ever fresh by regular reunions. Between these gatherings, sweet memories of youthful friendships are kept alive by the songs of their youth like “The jeweled wings of dreams,” or the bittersweet refrain at graduation time, “The time of farewell has come, good-bye, wish you good luck, good-bye, friends . . . . ”
Address Book Five Years in the Making Son Hei-young, a graduate of Ewha Girls’ High School, the oldest school for women in Korea, recalled the time when her schoolmates started having reunions. “In the 1960s, when we graduated from high school, we had a new world unfolding before each of us, so the alumnae did not stick together much. After about 20 years, 84 KOREANA Summer 2017
we had established our lives to certain degrees and wanted to see old friends, so about ten of us, [who were] easy to contact, started to meet once a month. It took us five years to complete the address book of about 400 alumnae. We then published a newsletter, held events for the 30th, 40th, and 50th anniversaries of our graduation, and organized small hobby groups for sports, choir singing, painting, and other leisure activities.” Activities at reunions are generally similar no matter what school the women attended. Small groups meet regularly in each local area, and sometimes, a bigger official event is organized for a reunion of the entire class. Regardless of the size of the get-together, the participants enjoy themselves talking and eating together, taking in a lecture, playing sports, dancing and singing, traveling, or doing something for the alma mater. For the special events, mostly held in rented hotel ballrooms, they practice dancing and singing in advance. Everyone says they don’t feel awkward doing these things together, even though they might not
have seen each other for a long time; surely this is due to the welltended memory of their old friendships.
Friendship Contained in Hometown Delicacies Graduates of Tongyeong Girls’ High School, located in Tongyeong, a port city in South Gyeongsang Province, maintain a special tradition for their reunions. Every year on April 9, the school’s founding anniversary, they gather to cook azalea pancakes and mugwort rice cakes to be served and given as gifts. Alumna Lee Jeong-yeon explained, “Around that time, the Tongyeong Market becomes a flower market. Before the reunion, hometown alumnae make the preparations as hosts of the gathering. They are joined by other alumnae who arrange to arrive ahead of the event. Together, they go to the market, buy azalea blossoms and glutinous rice for the dough and make the pancakes; they also make crescent-shaped mugwort rice cakes from a mixture of fresh mugwort and rice flour. We are grateful to the reunion committee, which prepares these delicacies every year.” Village people living in nearby mountains pick the azalea flowers, take out the poisonous stamens, carry the remainder by the basketful, and sell them in the market. The alumnae buy them and mix so many of them with sticky rice dough that the dough is hardly vis-
ible. The small pancakes, baked shortly before eating, resemble pink flowers in bloom. In Tongyeong, every family prepares and enjoys this specialty in the spring. Bae Do-su, president of the alumnae association of Tongyeong Girls’ High School, said, “Preparing this delicacy requires a lot of work, and the expense incurred in serving several hundred people is not low, but we gladly do it every time because they come, some from far away, with the expectation of enjoying these hometown delicacies. We want to relive the memory of enjoying them together as we did in the past.” She added, “We also give out some flower dough as a gift.” In Kaesong, now in North Korea, people would make soup for the Lunar New Year’s Day with joraeng-i tteok, small pieces of rice cake pressed in the middle with a bamboo stick to form a figure 8 or the shape of an unshelled peanut. The soup is prepared for ancestral rites and is shared with family members afterward. Kaesong Azalea pancakes, an earlyspring delicacy made with sticky rice dough mixed with pink azalea petals and fried in oil, have become a special treat identified with the annual reunion of graduates of Tongyeong Girls’ High School in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, where the spring flowers blossom earlier than anywhere in Korea. The school’s alumnae from various parts of the country gather at the school grounds to share the delicacy they made together and to renew their friendship.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 85
natives have kept their traditional cuisine even after leaving their hometown and settling in the South. Graduates of Kaesong’s Holston Girls’ High School gather together the day before the Lunar New Year and make these rice cakes to send to friends and kin as a gift. This tradition has been passed on to younger generations, including their daughters-in-law. Some alumnae living in Seoul meet together more often, sustaining their friendships through different personal traditions. For Lee He-suk, who lives in a house with a big yard, making soy sauce using fermented soybeans together with friends from her elementary, middle, and high school years, is an annual event full of meaning. About two months later, they can all take home a pot of their very own soy sauce. Cheon Yi-hyang, president of the alumnae association of Pungmun Girls’ High School, and her fellow alumnae, her friends of 40 years, make mandu [dumplings] at home for those who have difficulty going out for the year-end party. Everyone brings one of the ingredients; they exchange gifts and enjoy chatting and sharing jokes like the young girls they were long ago. The gifts range from rice cakes, pretty dishware, or fine soaps, thoughtfully planned to avoid clutter at home. Those who take phone calls during the gathering have to pay a penalty. Lee Sun and her school friends of 30 years meet once a month at the Sindorim subway station in southwestern Seoul. The meeting
place was chosen for the convenience of those coming from other provinces. From there, they move to a nearby shopping mall for lunch. Chatting and discussing issues before them, and sometimes watching a movie, they spend an entire day together.
Using Social Media for Reunions There are always some who are very good at housekeeping. From know-how on its trivial aspects to the secrets of smart investing, they exchange information on various topics. There also are always a couple of people expressing strong political opinions, which sometimes leads to awkward moments, but eventually, the moments pass and the discussions move on. One benefit of reunions is that they provide a chance to do some voluntary work. Members take on chores in turns, such as planning a trip or meeting, preparing necessary materials, sending out letters and messages, or keeping the accounts. As alumnae get older, they collect just enough money from members for occasional expenses. Usually, a monthly contribution of 30,000 won (approximately 30 dollars) will cover lunch and other costs, such as helping out on family events of the members. The smartphone has also changed how reunions get organized. The current trend is to contact each other through group chat rooms. The old method of sending out newsletters by snail mail is
In group photographs of 30-year reunions, alumnae often sit or stand straight in formal poses. The poses on photos of 40-year reunions are somewhat freer, with some half-reclining and relaxed, all smiling brightly. The parties often taking place for 50-year reunions represent the peak of this tradition.
Friends since their youthful years, the women, now in middle age, revisit Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom and a memorable destination of their high school field trips. With memories of such a trip ever fresh, they play a “drop the handkerchief” game in the grass lawn near a royal tomb. Attired in their school uniform, their faces reflect the joy of reliving a memory from their school years.
86 KOREANA Summer 2017
now passé. About 10 years ago, internet cafés were dominant, but for a few years now, instant messaging apps are the main means of communication. Through the smartphone, distances between friends from around Korea and overseas disappear as messages are exchanged instantly and 24/7. The downside of those apps is that engaging in too many chat rooms at a time can feel like swimming in a sea of spam, forcing one to decide what to do with the flood of messages. What’s more, by participating in numerous chat rooms, people sometimes become confused and send messages to the wrong one, thus unintentionally revealing private matters to the wrong person. Therefore, one needs a fair amount of social media skills when using alumnae chat rooms. Due to their convenience, as well as the curiosity of the members, social media were more actively used at first, but now more and more alumnae leave chat rooms to keep their daily lives more relaxed.
The Sunset of a Sweet Tradition Inevitably, alumnae reunions also mark the passage of time. In group photographs of 30-year reunions, alumnae often sit or stand straight in formal poses. The poses on photos of 40-year reunions are somewhat freer, with some half-reclining and relaxed, all smiling brightly. The parties often taking place for 50-year reunions
represent the peak of this tradition. Alumnae join from all over the world, dressed up for the special occasion. Contributions to their alma mater, such as scholarships, become bigger, and many boast their previously hidden talents in various performances during the gathering. Fifty years of friendship are celebrated in other ways, too. Some alumnae groups have published books recording their activities and time spent together. The 1965 graduates of Ewha Girls’ High School, for example, collected 300 photos of alumnae from 1946 to 2015 and published a photo essay book titled “Fashion History of Modern Korean Women 1946–2015.” It traces modern Korean women’s aesthetic sense during the country’s rapid industrial and social development, not through fashionable dresses worn by models and professional women but through the daily clothing of housewives, featuring some memories about famous fashion designers as backdrops. There are certainly 60-year reunions, too, but as people get older, fewer of them can muster the energy required to organize them. By the age of 80, people often have trouble getting around due to arthritis, while others are bedridden, rendering reunions nearly impossible. And so, girls’ high school reunions draw to their close and the joys of friendships formed in youthful days slowly fade into distant memories.
KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 87
JOURNEYS IN KOREAN LITERATURE
Choi Jae-bong Reporter, The Hankyoreh
“The main setting of ‘At Least Half a Haruo’ is a holiday in India, but I actually think of it as a story about homeland. Haruo seems to feel at home wherever he is.”
ee Jang-wook is a novelist and a poet. Among the Korean literary community it is not rare to find novelists who started out as poets, but there aren’t many writers like Lee Jang-wook who, having made inroads in another genre, continues to be just as productive in both. In 2014, Lee received the Kim Yu-jeong Literary Award, one of the country’s major fiction prizes, and then in 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Daesan Literary Award for his poetry. This demonstrates just how well-received his work continues to be, both poetry and prose. Published in 2013, the first thing to grab the attention in Lee Jang-wook’s short story “At Least Half a Haruo” is its riddle of a title. The story recounts the Korean protagonist’s observations of a Japanese man called Haruo Takahashi, and the title relates to Haruo’s ethnic background. Considering the fact that Haruo enjoys traveling and gets along well with unfamiliar people, the protagonist tells him, “You’re different from the other Japanese people I know,” and to the protagonist stuck in such a mindset, Haruo makes a curious joke, “So you could say, at least half a Haruo is a Haruo that’s somehow different.” This utterance does not merely apply to notions of genealogy. Haruo responds to the protagonist’s comment with a smile, “You’re different from the other Korean people I know, too.” In these words, one can detect a genteel form of resistance and critique of the all-too-common tendency to judge and define people according to ethnic or national background. It could be said, therefore, that this story uses the enigmatic character of Haruo, who has a mystique and attractiveness which
88 KOREANA Summer 2017
is hard to define precisely, to explore ideas of difference and otherness. Going beyond merely enjoying traveling to actually doing it as an occupation, Haruo exudes an alluring cosmopolitanism. It could be said that Haruo’s biological genealogy naturally makes him cosmopolitan, but in order to become the cosmopolitan figure we meet in the story, he had to go through a “death defying” kind of adventure. Having been bullied at school and later flunking the university entrance exam, Haruo sets off on a “suicide trip” to Korea, and in the southern city of Busan, he has an experience that transforms his life in a fundamental way. Strictly speaking, this momentary, coincidental meeting is not a particularly remarkable experience, but it results in his wish to die dissipating completely. When Haruo tries to explain it, he says, “You could say it was like, in a single moment, the being that was me was moved about five centimeters into another world.” It would be more precise, then, to say that in a state of preparedness for a shift in being, that small experience became the equivalent of pulling the trigger. Whatever the details of this shift, it is through this happening that Haruo becomes a “different” person in a “different” world. It marks the birth of the cosmopolitan “at least half a Haruo.” The protagonist first meets and becomes friends with Haruo while traveling in India with his girlfriend, and from then on keeps track of him by reading the posts he writes on his blog. But as time goes by, the protagonist visits Haruo’s website less frequently, and in the end stops checking on it altogether. Having lost contact with Haruo, he hears about
him again years later from his now ex-girlfriend. While working as a flight attendant, she witnessed an incident involving Haruo at an airport in America. At the time, Haruo was refusing to be put through a full body scan, which is often demanded of Asian-looking foreign travelers at American airports, and so he was dragged off to an interrogation room by airport security guards. The protagonist’s ex-girlfriend adds, “I’m not certain whether or not it really was Haruo, but . . .” that person has to have been Haruo. To try to expand on this premise, it seems like the airport incident signifies the restriction and breakdown of the “Haruo-type life.” It demonstrates the reality in which, with safety measures intensified for travelers following the September 11 terrorist attacks on American soil, that way of life is no longer possible. A world in which the difference and otherness that Haruo pursued and which his character symbolized can barely continue to exist. The fact that Haruo’s blog is taken offline following the airport incident could also reflect the circumstances in which the Haruo-type life, and therefore the person that Haruo was, has become an impossibility. If the story ended here, it would have to be called a tragic or cynical conclusion. But it seems the writer wants to say that, although Haruo disappeared, the Haruo-type life has not been completely wiped out. When the protagonist is put in charge of screening applicants for new international employees at the company where he works, a Japanese man “similar to Haruo,” named Kyosuke Hara, applies and is called for an interview. At the end of the story, the protagonist resigns from the company without incident and books himself a plane ticket to India. Although it seemed as though the protagonist had forgotten about Haruo completely, he had in fact been searching for him all along, and, to put it more precisely, believed that Haruo had to exist in this world somehow. It could be said that in this way, the story demonstrates the contagiousness of the Haruo-like life, and with this, perhaps we witness a continuation of the Haruo-like life into the future. The following lines from an interview with Lee Jang-wook which appeared in the literary review journal Axt (Volume 6, May 2016) will probably help readers gain a deeper understanding of this story. “The main setting of ‘At Least Half a Haruo’ is a holiday in India, but I actually think of it as a story about homeland. You have a character like Haruo who has no homeland and the character of the protagonist’s father who is utterly attached to his village. Later I found the following rumination about the humanism of exiles, quoted by Edward Said in a book: The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his. “Haruo seems to fall into the second category, someone who feels at home wherever he is. But it says that a really perfect person is one who feels that all places are foreign. Although I imagine it would be agonizing to live that way.” KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS 89
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